Influencing Unlikely Friendships

Josh Wanner Road Maps

As parents our focus is often on ensuring our children have the right kind of friends. We arrange “play dates.” We sign them up for teams and activities where they can interact with other children we deem suitable playmates. We talk with our child’s teacher to see if he or she is getting along with other children in the class. We worry if we think our son or daughter might be spending too much time with questionable characters.

These are all worthy pursuits, but I wonder if we might also consider how our kids can be a “force for good” in our neighborhood. How might we help them set the tone for how things go when a group of children get together? How can we help them be leaders rather than followers? I learned a few things about this from our son and daughter-in-law.

Our daughter told me about a scene she witnessed when our son corralled a number of the neighborhood children in his already busy-with-four-of-its-own front yard.

From what she described, it appeared at least two of the neighborhood children felt more comfortable in his yard and house than in their own. Apparently no one was much concerned about their whereabouts, even at supper time, so they often lingered looking like they’d like to be fed.
It seems as though he took the lead in suggesting that perhaps his family had a role in welcoming these boys. Your sister-in- law agreed. Observe Baker house rules they must, but welcome they were to play at his house and occasionally be fed.

As a psychologist, I’m all for healthy limits and boundaries. You can’t always take on the parenting and nutritional needs of the neighborhood. A chat with the boys’ parents may be appropriate.

That being said, I was impressed by our son’s kindness and generosity. His days are crazy busy; his evenings are filled with classes or kids. He has every right to insist on peace and quiet on his own turf. Many men do.

Yet, he seemed to realize these children needed something they may not be getting at home. It’s hard to say what that may be, but they obviously had their own reasons for wanting to be part of the little community of neighborhood kids often occupying his yard.

Before we cross certain kids off our child’s “friend list,” I’m wondering if we might also consider the opportunity we have to influence children other than our own. Perhaps we can help our child demonstrate compassion to someone with fewer friends. Maybe we can model leadership in setting the tone for how we will be with others. It’s not a strategy many parents employ, but if and when they do, I’m betting there will be benefits.

Dr. Jennifer Baker is the founder and director of Good Dads. She can be reached for question or comment at jennifer@gooddads.com