As is true for so many areas of their lives, the early years are the best time to lay the foundation for healthy relationships in adolescence and adulthood. We can do so by talking about friendships.
In casual conversations, while driving in the car, cooking dinner, or hiking, we can ask about a friend, and what they enjoy in that friend. We can talk about what we enjoy in our own friendships, and how we get different things from different friends.
It can be as simple as, “Who did you hang out with at lunch today?…I don’t know him very well. Tell me about him, what do you like most about him?”
Just make this topic a regular one you chat about. Short and light. You may not get much information, but raise the topic anyway, frequently, and as part of day-to-day conversation.
Teach them to expect respect in all their relationships. As conflicts or difficult situations arise and you are helping your child resolve them, reinforce the expectation that a good friend listens to you and responds to your feelings. If you speak up about something you don’t like, does the friend stop doing it?
This situation comes up in sibling relationships often, and as parents we can use those moments to lay this foundation, over and over.
Modeling good friendship for your child is, of course, of great importance. As they learn to be a good friend, they will expect the same good treatment from others.