Role-play can help kids navigate friendships

July 23, 2010

Editor's note: Lisa Prejean is working this week as a camp counselor in Indiana. This column originally was published in 2006.

Many of our recent after-dinner discussions have focused on friendship.

We've talked about what it means to be a friend. We've discussed the importance of selecting friends wisely. We've asked our children to consider the choices their friends are making. We've also told them to evaluate their own actions, and ask, "Am I being a good friend?"

Summer seems to be an ideal time to approach this conversation. More daylight hours means more time in the outdoors. Children are spending additional time with each other, whether it's in an organized sports league or a casual gathering at a neighborhood park.

We try to role-play with our kids so they know how to respond in social situations, but there are not enough hours in a day to run through every scenario. Plus, there's always a new one cropping up.


We hope they apply the basic principles we've taught. We also encourage them to evaluate: How did you respond when so-and-so said such-and-such? Do you think that was the best response you could have chosen?

When each encounter is approached as a learning experience, children become more confident in social graces. They also learn the value of friendship.

According to Webster's New World College Dictionary, a friend is "a person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance."

When the stresses of life seem overwhelming, friends can help lighten the load. It's important to have friends throughout life. What better time to start learning how to build good, solid friendships than in elementary school?

Here are some basic guidelines we've been trying to teach our kids:

1. If you want to have friends, be friendly. Smile. Remember other people's interests and ask them questions about the things that are important to them. Quickly come to their assistance if they need help. Be dependable.

2. Never speak unkind words about one friend to another friend. Not only is it wrong to do, you will be viewed as untrustworthy.

3. If a friend comes to you and gently points out a fault, thank him for caring enough to do so. It's easy to give flattery. It's much more difficult to guide someone in the right direction.

4. Sometimes the best friends are found in the places you'd least expect. They don't draw attention to themselves. Working in a group isn't a problem because they don't always have to be right or to have things their way. They share. They let others go first. (Be like this and see how it draws others to you.)

5. If a friend wants you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, don't do it. You may lose a friendship because of your choice, but that might be for the best. Apparently, it wasn't much of a friendship if it can dissolve so quickly.

6. Avoid making friendships with people who easily become angry. It's tempting to fall into the "I get no respect" frame of mind if you spend a lot of time with people who gripe all the time. They are typically the people who do the least work and complain the loudest about what they've done. Look for friendships in people who are flexible, considerate and conscious of others' feelings.

7. Cultivate friendships both with people who have the same interests as you and with people who have different interests. You'll gain companionship from one type of friend and a sense of intrigue from the other. It's fun to have a friend who likes to do the things you enjoy. It's also fun to learn about something new.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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