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Understand how kids of all ages make friends and how you
can nurture friendships

Ages 2 to 4


Young children depend on others to
help them develop positive social skills. With their limited verbal
skills and their concrete thinking, 2-year-olds sometimes have
trouble negotiating disagreements over sharing. Even when they seem
engaged in unrelated activities, toddlers notice a forgotten toy
when someone else plays with it. So provide enough toys so sharing
isn’t a big problem for younger children. Use praise to reinforce
good behavior, such as “It was nice of you to share your toy.”
Older preschoolers are learning to play in groups. Provide a play
area with games, dress-up clothes, and puppets where children can
play with each other, learn how to share, and take turns. Help
children refine their negotiation skills to resolve conflicts. Give
them ideas of what to say. Use Scripture to emphasize giving and
receiving; for example, “Be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).

Ages 5 to 8


Kids this age are learning to be
independent and choose their friends. Children are learning
conformity by having to adjust to new school rules. Kids’
self-image is strongly related to others’ opinions of them. When
kids don’t feel good about themselves, they feel rejected by
others. They may act out their rejection through hostile actions
such as bullying. Bullies don’t know how to handle their insecure
feelings. Because they so desperately crave peer attention, they
strive to be noticed-whether the influence is positive or negative.
Enhance kids’ self-image with activities that involve different
skills they may excel in, such as crafts, games, and reading. Give
positive reinforcement for kids’ unique gifts and talents.

To help a bully, stress respect. Be
a positive role model. Handle class conflict without anger. Talk
about how God expects us to treat others. Help children identify
and own their feelings. Talk about how Jesus handled disagreements.
Let kids know God understands our emotions, whether good or bad.
Encourage them to ask God for help in understanding and befriending
other people.

If you are aware of a bullying
incident, contact the child’s parent. Talk about how you can help
and work with the parent to eliminate the problem.

Ages 9 to 12


Older kids are interdependent.
Sometimes this stage is called the “gang stage.” Positive peer
influence causes cliques; negative peer influence may cause gangs.
Parental authority diminishes, and kids want to be with their
friends. Kids can gain confidence in their social groups; cliques
help them create an identity apart from their parents. Sometimes,
though, cliques exclude other kids. And some kids lack confidence
to interact with cliques because they fear rejection. Help kids
develop healthy social relationships.

Plan learning activities where kids
are required to work together and depend on each other. Role play
friendship situations. Form randomly selected teams to play
noncompetitive games that help kids get to know each other. Build
friendships; for example, have kids give gifts and notes to secret
pals, or assign prayer buddies. Show kids by example how to greet
new people in class. Talk about the qualities of a good friend.
Compare those qualities to God’s friendship with us.

Excerpted from Children’s Ministry Magazine. Subscribe today!

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