As Time Changes, So Do Our Friendships

As our children make their way into the latter half of the school year and the snow (eventually) melts, they can start to reacclimatise themselves to routine social gatherings, playdates, and shared activities. The pandemic will continue to be the underpinning of how we operate on a daily basis, but with the consistency of our children being in the classroom and engaging in their activities (for the most part), a concept that continues to emerge is how our children identify, choose, and maintain their friendships. Whether we like it or not, the pandemic has changed us as a society, especially as the months continue to pass. It has become very obvious that a lot of people, (young and old) have reached their ceiling with patience which has led to an increased negative attitude coupled with overwhelming frustration. As a result of the shift in mindset for a lot of people, there has been a direct impact on peer relationships, especially with our children. Since, our children have not been able to consistently engage with friends on a routine basis over the last two plus years, the friends they are selecting, may not always be the best choice for them. However, because so many are starving for some connection, they will rely on the sample around them, which is often one of convenience rather than best fit.

As your children age, whether that be early grade school or the later grades, establishing a healthy understanding of who are the right friends for them at their current stage of life is imperative in helping them better understand themselves and their peers. A question a friend of mine asked me years ago when we were children was "Will my friends now, be my friends forever?" The reality is, there is no steadfast rule, but it is often less likely the friendships they have now will always remain the strongest or most present. When working with many children, adolescents, even adults, the emphasis of our discussions has been focused on recognizing how to make appropriate friends, how to keep these friends for sustained periods, AND accepting that people and interests change over time. Often times, I have emphasized with younger children that much of the early grades are focused on learning to make friends and how to choose the people that are best suited for you. Friends can come from school, extracurricular activities, and family members, but the key in the early grades, as parents, is for you to emphasize the values and interests that your children have now and how that matches up with the friends they are selecting. You have the opportunity to help them navigate what it means to be a friend and who they feel they connect with most.

However, as they continue to age and make their way through late middle school and into high school, more of the emphasis shifts to your children making their own independent choices as to who they want as friends. The pattern shifts away from the parents arranging the playdates and social outings to the children sending their friends messages online and coordinating plans with one another, with much less direct parental involvement. It is at that point when your children may start to realize that just because they were friends with someone in elementary school there is no guarantee they will stay friends with them as they age. Do not be afraid to paint a realistic picture for your children. Remind them of your own experiences. Although you may have friends from your past, your closest friendships established themselves well into your 20s and 30s.

For their own psychological well-being, comfort, and confidence within the social realm, help your children (consistently) identify what type of friend they want to have in their lives while also ensuring that if they are "friends" with someone in an online community, that they do their best effort to meet them face-to-face at some point and if not, to be very cautious and intentional about what they choose to share with them online. Encouraging more face-to-face social interactions are most ideal, especially because they has been so minimal since March of 2020. Process with your children what feelings and thoughts they have after socializing with friends, helping them identify what they like and do not like about certain friends. Provide the space for them to be honest with themselves, instead of maintaining a friendship because of history or convenience.

Lastly, pay close attention to the choices you are making, because as we know our children are watching everything we do. Let your children know how you established your circle of friends, recognizing that your own circles changed throughout your life, largely because you likely spend most of your time at your children's events and the people you see regularly are the other parents at those same events! However, it is likely that you do not have one or two friends that meet all your needs and that is very important that your children know that too. Their closest friends will change, but each friend they include in their lives will likely not meet all their needs. So, they may have their art class friend, their swimming friend, their sports friends, their gaming friends, or the friends they go to movies with. Regardless of their stage of life, to ensure they feel more at ease and less anxious with friendships, it will be important for your children to check in with their inner feelings. Evaluate how their common interests and values will strengthen their friendships and how those choices will establish a trajectory for them in the years ahead. Never forget that as times change, so can friendships.


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