By Christy Henderson, BYS Counselor 

One of the biggest parenting challenges is watching our kids wrestle through their own forested life path, especially when it gets hard. How do we find the balance in knowing how much of our children’s pack to carry, and how much weight to let them hold in order to discover their own muscles and skills for navigating forward? And how do we watch them work through the life boulders on their path when they are too big for us to move out of the way?

As a youth counselor, this balance between fixing and teaching is a constant. I remind myself that it is my role to advocate for kids when needed and to help them discover and develop the strength and courage they already possess. One area, however, that is very difficult to manage is when youth clients come to me and sadly say, “I just want a friend. Just one really good friend.” 

While it’s true we can’t force genuine friendships to happen for ourselves or our kids, there are things we can do to support their development.

  • Adults can work together to create as many opportunities, outlets, and spaces where kids feel safe to show up and engage and allow kids to interact with one another.

  • We can help kids scan their friendship skillset and offer simple changes that could make friendships easier. There are lots of small friendship skills that can be learned and practiced and can make a big difference in finding friends at any age.

  • Be aware of the “what’s wrong with me” question. This question needs to be talked back to by remaining clear that ‘fitting in’ is not the answer but helping youth discover the worth of who they are is.

  • Help our kids develop the tool of positive self-discovery. It’s their own discovery of and confidence in their likability that matters.

  • Love our kids for who they are, and help them develop the tool of self-acceptance. Work to demonstrate that friendship and love aren’t something you deserve after you become perfect. Friendship is that which cares for you now, even if you stumble and fall and before you’ve proven yourself ‘worthy’ through accomplishments or medals.

When our kids learn to love the full package of who they are, the friendship boulder gets smaller. Until we learn to be a friend to ourselves and help our kids do the same, we can have all the friends in the world, but the loneliness battle will never truly be won. Our role is to see our children’s good, give them opportunities to discover and practice that good, and love them when they fall and help them get back up.