Little Ethan straightening out and reaching further with a friend’s help.

Friends sit on each other.  They stretch and straighten each other up.  They cause pain to each other, then massage each other to relieve the pain.  Friends laugh and play together.  They share fun and vulnerabilities.  They can trust each other because each is trustworthy.  As a result, both emerge stronger, more flexible and with the gumption to reach further because they know that someone is watching out for them.

Your friends are a safe place for you to vent because they won’t judge you for the bad thoughts you think while doing their best to prevent you from acting them out.  They know that the horrid you is temporary and believe that the better you will overcome.  Friends civilise each other, which in turn brings about lasting marriages, strong communities, and allied nations.  In my son’s journey as a national athlete, he was constantly reminded that the purpose of international competitions is to build friendships.  After competing with each other in the arena, athletes would go for meals and game online together as friends.

I remember a chat I had with a neighbour some years ago during our daily afternoon play dates when our then little children met to play for 2 hours.  She mentioned something her mother had taught her about people: 让人吃一点不会死 , loosely translated, you won’t die if you let others win at your small expense, meaning “It’s ok to let small grievances go, there’s no need to get even.”  It was an unexpected moment of enlightenment which empowered me to view friendship from a new perspective, with the realisation that being petty wasn’t good for me.  My friend had provided me with a life-giving script to replace a destructive one that had been running inside my head and making my life miserable for forty years.

How often do you talk to your children about friendship?  Do you tell them stories about your friendships with others?  Do you ask them: what makes a friend a friend?  How can a person be a friend to another?  Who initiates a new friendship?  What’s the difference between old friends and new, and why is there a need for both?  In your conversations about friendship, you will be treading on very important concepts of collaboration, compromise and cooperation. Explain them to your child, and talk about it over and over again.  It is a conversation worth repeating because your child will see and apply the concepts differently as he matures.

The skill of building friendships requires time and practise to hone.  If it is an art that you are not good at, don’t feel embarrassed about it – it is never too late to learn.  Watch a good movie or drama, or read a book together, and have a discussion about the characters.  Talk about family issues and community news selectively with your child.  Try to be as objective as you can.  Help him see the same problem from different perspectives.

The earlier you start your child in the conversation, the more conversant he will be in the language of building friendship. In a world that is full of people to navigate around, he would be armed with  a set of skills that are far superior to having A grades in his report card.  If he is bad with numbers, it’s ok because he’ll have a friend who can help him organise his finances.  If one friend tries to cheat him of his money, he’ll have another friend to warn him.

But not everyone will respond to his efforts to make friends.  He needs to know that foes exist in this world too and it’s prudent to discuss how he should respond to them as well. 💐

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