How often do your children play with friends, and under what conditions? How do these things change as your children get older? How do you help your children respond appropriately to unkind behavior and deal with conflicts? How do you help your children stand up for what's right without being "preachy" or "goody-goody"?
These great questions about friends will take a few days to answer. The answer to the first question is below.
“How often do your children play with friends, and under what conditions?”
In order to answer this question, first I have to tell you how I define play. There are three kinds of playing with friends. Play happens when friends come over, or my child goes to their friend’s house and they invent/play independently. And, there is also the kind of play which happens when my child goes to a birthday party, scouts, or activity group, or with cousins. The last kind of play happens all the time with siblings.
We know many children. I only allow some of our friends to play with my children during the second play scenario, not the first, while supervised. This probably sounds harsh and possibly even judgmental of other children or families, so let me explain.
Not all of our friends have the same values which we have. Some children use inappropriate language, or engage in inappropriate activities. The most common problem we run into is some of our friends spend a lot more time in front of stimulating devices than I feel healthy for my children. I spend a lot of time and energy encouraging my children to really play and not watch TV or play computer games very often. We have a few friends who always have their TVs on when we go over, so those friends are invited to our home, but the answer is always NO when my children are asked to play at their homes.
I have also spoken with other mothers in my neighborhood about my rules for my child regarding computer games and TVs. My oldest son is very attracted to media and computer games. He developed a habit of going to certain friend’s houses and always asking to play their computer games. If he doesn’t ask my permission to play computer games before he plays them, then he is choosing to lose his play at friend’s houses privilege for one week. One time he lost this privilege, so while talking to the mother of his friend I told her Quin wouldn’t be able to play at friend’s houses for the week because he didn’t call to ask if he could play computer games before he did while he was at her house. I apologized for my son making it necessary for our boys to have to play only at my home for a week, and then told her about our rule. I told her my son had a problem being attracted to computer games and so it would really help him if she always told him NO if he ever asked to play computer at her home. She immediately saw the wisdom of this for my child and offered to help him redirect his focus during play time. She was working with me instead of against me.
The first kind of play:
My children play with friends at their homes about once every two weeks, unless they are playing with cousins who are visiting. My children under age 12 have children over to our home to play one or two times per week. Play times don’t usually go longer than two or three hours. Often times they are much shorter. Children over age 12 seem to need friends over about once every two weeks or possibly once per week.
If my children start begging too much for friends then I know it is time to take a break from friends for a while to re-focus on family.
The second kind of play:
Our family is part of many social groups outside of home. We have dance and sports groups, music groups, church groups, scouts, and other school clubs and classes. On average, each child has three times each week when they go to groups with friends. I count these times as play time. When my child looses the privilege of having play time, these group play times are also included in the consequence.
One of the most important parent/child moments of the day is discussing what happens in these groups, so I can properly guide my children through their social learning. Get your child used to discussing their play times and analyzing proper social conduct, and you will forever be part of your child’s social learning and life too.
The third kind of play:
Playing with siblings is the most important kind of play. The family relationships are forever. If these relationships are strained or fail, part of your child’s happiness is gone forever. My family vision is to have a family of best friends, this means we have to play mostly with each other.
My children are best friends with each other. If they don’t get along, we immediately address it. My children often play so much with each other that they don’t even notice they could be calling a friend until it is dinner time, and too late to call anyway.
All siblings are invited to participate in friend time when friends come over as well. If a child refuses to include a sibling who wants to play with them and a friend, then we immediately talk to renew our family focus. If my child has an attitude problem about having to include a sibling, then their friend has to go home. Family comes before friends. Families are forever, friends are usually temporary.
In my audio seminar I talk more about how you know when your child needs to take time off of friends, which we do periodically.
Changing from a very social schedule to a more family centered schedule can be hard at first, but it is truly one of the BEST decisions we ever made for the happiness and vision of our family. Friend time too often makes selfish children.
I will answer the other questions about friends in the coming posts. J