"Play nicely." "Please share with Johnny/Suzie." These phrases or similar versions of them are familiar to many of us. We heard them as children and probably repeat them to our own children. It's in the early years when we begin to help our children make friends and build relationships.

As individuals we may be unique, but some experiences and needs are common to all of our lives. Having healthy relationships with our peers is one common need. Adolescent children especially need healthy friendships. It's important to this age group to have someone who shares the same likes and dislikes in music or clothing, or someone who can offer mutual support in navigating this difficult growth stage. Parental guidance at this time is key to helping form healthy friendships.

Here are some ways you can help your child build healthy relationships:

  • Build respect for other people's feelings and property. Compliment your child's knowledge and abilities, pay attention and listen to her, and ask permission to use things that belong to her. Your child will display the same behaviors to you and to others outside the home. Respect is a two-way street that builds trust, encouraging good relationships.
  • Provide a safe and loving home environment. Your child should feel comfortable bringing friends home, and her friends should feel welcome in your home. This gives you an ideal opportunity to observe your child's friends and spot troublesome relationships.
  • Teach responsibility.Give appropriate amounts of independence and freedom. Do not instantly demand that your child end a relationship with which you are uncomfortable. Instead, choose a time to calmly express your concerns and gently remind your child about the boundaries and standards you have set for your family. Most children will respect these boundaries and eventually make them part of their lives. A child is more likely to give up an inappropriate friendship because it could cause embarrassment than because he feels compelled to.
  • Resolve conflict. Teach your child to respect other points of view. No relationship is without discord, and sometimes we have to lose the fight to win the relationship. Compromise is a key ingredient in maintaining good, healthy relationships. Where good relations are concerned, winning isn't everything.
  • Be a good role model. You are the most powerful example in your child's life. Let your child observe your own relationships, especially those that are long-standing—from junior high or your college days. Talk about your friendships openly—the good times and the not-so-good times, the ups and the downs. Your child should know that putting effort into relationships is what contributes to their value and longevity.

Our children spend many unsupervised hours away from home, and inevitably they leave the family. Learning how to choose good friends and how to nurture friendships is an important part of growing up. These skills can make coping with life's hardships a lot easier when they occur.

Put It Into Practice

Talk to your child about her friendships. Ask her whether she and her friends treat each other with respect. Talk to her about how she can approach a friend when things aren't going well but she wants to keep the friendship.