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Friendship: Building Friendships With Your Kids

"Fifty years from now it will not matter what kind of car you drove, what kind of house you lived in, how much you had in your bank account, or what your clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because you were important in the life of a child." -anonymous

Many years ago, while trout fishing in Northern Arizona, my father and I (Greg) decided to cool off by swimming in the river. The only problem was that we did not have our bathing suits. Since we had hiked several miles without seeing anyone, we decided to swim as nature had intended it. After splashing around for a few minutes -- to our surprise -- a group of hikers appeared. Totally embarrassed, we sank down into the deep water. As they passed by, suddenly one of the hikers screamed, "Hey, aren't you Gary Smalley?" To this day we cannot believe that someone recognized him in the middle of the wilderness.

The best part of our trip, however, was yet to come. After the hikers disappeared, we started fishing near a beaver dam. This is when my dad did something that I'll never forget. In the midst of some great fishing, he asked me if I wanted to have a Bible study. So we sat down on the beaver dam and read from the Word. As we talked about some deep spiritual issues, I rededicated my life to the Lord. I've never felt as close to my dad as I did that day.

What happened on our fishing trip, is actually the secret to building friendships with your children. Perhaps you want a deeper relationship with your child. Or maybe you feel that your friendship isn't what it used to be. Regardless of the situation, we want to encourage you to begin doing six important things which can help build closer friendships with your children.

Here are Six Ways to Build a Friendship with Your Child:

1. Make A Life-Time Commitment. Developing closer friendships with your children begins with making an unconditional commitment to them for life. Such a commitment says, "No matter what happens, I will never stop loving or supporting you." As I (Greg) was growing up, my dad gave us a daily reminder of his love and commitment. At the entryway of our home hung a wall plaque which read: "To Norma, Kari, Gregory and Michael, in assurance of my lifetime commitment to you." This plaque gave me the security to be close to my father because I knew that no matter what trouble I got into or what positive things I accomplished; he was committed to me for life.

One of the best ways to communicate unconditional commitment is through using words of affection on a regular basis. In other words, expressions such as, "I love you," and "You're the greatest son I could ever ask for." Children tend to make up their own mind if they don't hear Mom and Dad express their love and affection. I (Greg) remember one of the most valuable things my father said to me as a young child. We were driving in the car when I caught him smiling at me. When I asked what was so funny he replied, "Nothing...I just enjoy being with you." Then he said something that I'll never forget. "Greg," he explained, "having children is like creating your own best friend." Now that I have a daughter I understand what he meant that day. When your child knows you're committed to him for life, it allows him to become close to you--like a best friend.

2. Become A Student Of Your Children. In Proverbs 22:6 we read, "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it." When developing a friendship with our children, it's important to understand what this verse is saying. Instead of trying to "pigeon-hole" our children into something we think they ought to become, we need to carefully observe them and assess their strengths and weaknesses.

In his book You and Your Child, Chuck Swindoll says that the most important aspect of parenting is knowing your child. Specifically he explains, "The effectiveness of training your child is in direct proportion to the extent you know your child."

We encourage you to carefully study your child's natural personality. Is your child strong willed, fun loving, sensitive or very detailed? What are her likes and dislikes? What is the best way to motivate your child? What are his specific goals and dreams? As you begin to answer these kinds of questions you will be able to "tailor-make" your friendship with each child according to his natural personality.

3. Schedule Time Together. When asked about the privileges of growing up in a wealthy home a young successful attorney said that the greatest gift he ever received was from his father. One Christmas morning, amongst the piles of neatly wrapped present was a small box. Inside was a note saying, "Son, this year I will give you 365 hours, an hour every day after dinner."

"This simple present became the greatest gift I ever had in my life" explained the attorney. "Because my dad not only kept his promise, but every year he renewed it. I am the result of his time." This story found in God's Little Devotional Book for Dads, illustrates the third way that we as parents can develop a friendship with our children: Scheduling special times with them. Remember that friendships don't develop by chance or accident. Instead, meaningful friendships are a result of spending time together on a regular -- preferably daily -- basis. We need to get into the habit of setting special times for our children each day. For example, we could play a game together, read a book, have a special movie night or go to our favorite park as a family. The important part is not what we do but that we all enjoy it. However, because everyone may enjoy different activities, we encourage you to solicit as many suggestions as you can from family members for what would be their most enjoyable activities. List each activity on small pieces of paper and stuff them into an empty fish bowl. Each week (or several times during the week) pick a different activity to do as a family. This way everyone should eventually get to do his favorite activity.

4. Become Available To Your Children. Besides having scheduled time with your children, if you are to develop a meaningful friendship you need to be available to them during unscheduled times as well. It's important for us to make time when our children need it--watching for teachable moments. Some times when we're reading the paper, watching TV or fixing dinner, one of our children might say, "Mommy, read me a story." or "Daddy, will you throw the football with me?" At these times, we must be careful what we communicate. If we say, "Not now, I'm busy," they'll observe what we are doing and compare their importance to it.

At times we can drop what we're doing, because our children are simply more important. It's helpful to remember that most children don't expect their parents to give up all of their activities just so that they are always available. But children need to see that these activities are not as valuable as they are to their parents.

5. Listen In An Understanding Way. Another important aspect of developing a friendship with your children is by listening in an understanding way. In other words, we encourage you to become an active listener when communicating with your child. Active listening involves eye contact with the speaker. That means when our children are talking, we need to stop our activities--putting down the newspaper or turning the television off--and giving our undivided attention.

A good listener never assumes he knows what his child is saying. Instead, ask questions to clarify what the child has said. Then repeat, using different words, what you think he meant. For example you might ask, "Is this what you are trying to tell me?" If he says, "Well, Dad, that's close, but that's not quite it," then say, "Well, we have plenty of time. What do you mean by that?" As this repeating process continues, you will be communicating that your child's words and feelings are extremely important. What a great way to deepen your friendship!

6. Meaningful Touch. The final way that we've found to help build meaningful friendships with children is by touching. When you touch your child in a gentle way--soft, tender, full of warmth--millions of nerve endings send messages to the brain where chemicals are released to bring health to your child. Researchers say that parents who hold their children at least six times daily can add months or maybe even years onto their life span. Conversely, a child's growth is stunted when not touched on a regular basis. Children have actually died just from lack of touch, love and affection.

Your child benefits not only physiologically, but emotionally as well. It is much easier for your child to desire a close friendship with you when he knows someone cares enough to reach out and touch him appropriately. Children can tell by the way we touch them, and the frequency of our touch, just how valuable they are. We encourage you to make a decision to touch your children at least eight to twelve times a day in meaningful, age-appropriate ways (e.g., holding their hand on occasion, putting your arm around them and giving a bear hug).

Why Developing Friendships with Your Children Is So Important

The reason that my father and I had such a meaningful experience on our fishing trip is actually why becoming friends with your children is so valuable. As you spend time with your children, not only do you create precious memories, but another very important thing happens: You become bonded. Have you ever noticed how quickly things can go wrong when you're together as a family? Whether it's getting caught while "skinny dipping," the car breaking down, or someone falling into the water, spending time with each other can produce crises. The memories of being together on vacation when things go wrong or when you share adventure is what bonds your family together. The bottom line is that difficult times don't have to pull a family apart. Instead, it can be the very glue that bonds the family into tight friendships.

When our family was in the middle of a crisis you didn't find us saying, "Isn't this great. We're all feeling so close right now!" No way! When I talked my dad into swimming without our bathing suits, he wasn't laughing when the hikers walked by. In most cases it takes about three weeks for a shared crisis or experience to set and permanent bonding to take place. Once set, though, it's usually so tight that virtually nothing can tear apart the memory.

We want to encourage you to keep in mind that building meaningful friendships with children takes time and effort. But if you make the commitment and remain faithful to following these six steps we've outlined, then over time a beautiful friendship can blossom. Remember that now is the time to live tomorrow's memories. Tomorrow is too late!


Taken with permission from Greg Smalley, Psy.D.

Editor's Note: The article "Building Friendships With Your Children" by Gary and Greg Smalley was based in part on ideas from Gary's book, The Key To Your Child's Heart. For additional information on building friendships with your children and other parenting issues please refer to his book.

Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg at

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