Role Modelling Friendships


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Before I became a parent, I knew that the Mac-Man and I would have to become role models for the children and that it would extend into almost all areas of our lives. This meant our language, our behaviour, our routines, our habits, what we ate, everything.

They observe more than we realise. Even now, my toddler leans over her little sister and says, “Hello, sweetie,” because she’s heard me call her sister “sweetie”. The other day she burst out an, “Oh, my Lord!” because she has obviously heard me say it. Initially, she was more likely to brush her teeth if I did it with her. She agreed to start eating broccoli because Abby (Cadabby from Sesame Street) did it. I’m mindful if she sees us sneaking a chocolate before dinner, she’ll want one and how can I say, “No” when I am “breaking the rules”?

Given all this, one of the areas I’ve been thinking about lately is how to role model friendships to her. As I mentioned in my post last Tuesday, Who’s your BFF?, I don’t have many friends living nearby. We almost never have house guests nor hold dinner parties. Then I realised I seldom saw my parents do this when I was growing up. Is this why I’ve never felt the urgency to do so? It was never role modelled for me?

I know some friends invite people over often, or at least more often than we do. It looks like it could be fun. But it also looks like a lot of work. Knowing me, I’d want to put a lot of effort into it, not just offer a slap-dash evening for guests. Maybe some people are born to be hosts. Or are they?

Then there are the more important aspects of role modelling friendship such as teaching communication, respect, loyalty, conflict resolution, love and laughter. This is a little hard to do when I don’t have much of an opportunity to lead by example.

My toddler has a “best friend” at childcare and we had nothing to do with the development of that relationship. Maybe role modelling doesn’t play much of a part at all. My oldest daughter is only 33 months (today) so I have a long way to go, as she grows up, to figure this out.

Is this something you have thought about with your children? Do our friendships, or relationships in general, even play a part in shaping the relationships our children have? What opportunities do you have to role model friendships?

Related Posts

Who’s your BFF?

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I’m linking with Jess from Diary of a SAHM for IBOT.

I Blog on Tuesdays


40 thoughts on “Role Modelling Friendships

  1. My parents hardly had people over our house too, but I love to have friends over. Be it for simple tea or some dinner I cooked. We don’t have those fancy schmancy dinner with expensive china or a dinner table piece so it’s nice and relaxed :p

    I think our relationships do play a part because like u said, the children do model after our actions and words. I find it so hilarious when I hear my girl say some things we too in the same tone we use when I don’t think she fully understands what it means :p at this stage I don’t really think about role modeling for friendships, but more so for how to respect the elders like our parents, love the family etc

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

    • I guess when you are with close friends, there is no need to do something too fancy. I was watching Nigella Lawson on tv make some home meals for friends and relatives and it was rather homely rather than extremely fancy.

      I like your take on role-modelling, Ai; yes to respect for elders, love for the family, etc. Very good values to instil in them.

  2. I think I’ve modeled kindness & taking turns & sharing–I suppose in doing that, I’m modeling friendship, too. We have friends over and meet friends for outings with the kids, so I hope that will seem natural to them when they’re older.

    • Consideration for others is what is at the core of role modelling relationships. I like the values you’ve listed – kindness, taking turns, sharing. The world revolves about kids when they are little so these values do need to be active taught. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. We don’t have people over often – maybe once a week we will catch up with one friend or another, but some weeks there is nothing. I have a best friend but we only see her and her family every few months. Roo has two little friends that are her favourites at daycare, and their mum and I try to catch up for a playdate or a coffee at least once a week. And Roo often asks after my bestie’s children, and they speak on the phone! I have always tried to show Roo to be kind to everyone, but also to be generous with her friends. It’s hard at this age because they don’t understand a whole lot about how they are making others feel (Roo is 3 in just under two weeks) but Roo understands enough that if she doesn’t want to share something, then it gets put away.
    I think it’s important to teach our children to be generous and kind, but that keeping something back is OK too.
    Other than that, I hope she will learn by example to be a thoughtful, generous (where she is able) friend.

    • Ooooo, I have to remember that one, Daisy. If there’s no sharing, there’s no playing. Teaching kindess and compassion for humankind is probably even more important than just with friends because that’s the basic of being a good citizen and a considerate person in years to come whether it’s towards friends or anyone else. I don’t want Miss T to just be nice to those she likes and horrid to everyone else.

  4. I definitely think about this, Veronica. Like yourself, I am not inclined to throw dinner parties for friends (because of the effort involved and the amount of effort I know I’d put into it – same reasons as you!) – but I like the idea of it. I also don’t have a BFF, but have many good friends. I’m hoping that my interaction with them is modelling something to my children. I’m sure it is. Even if it’s just the respect and warmth we share. Lovely reminder, Veronica. xx

    • An earlier comment got me thinking, Deb, about the importance of teaching kindness and compassion, consideration and empathy, to people in general, regardless of whether they are friends / people we like, or not. That would be a good foundation to start from. I’ll add respect and warmth to the list.

  5. Something I have to be mindful of is the way I speak about people in front of my kids. A friend of mine made some crazy decisions this year, and I tried to to help her, but she ignored me and ended up heartbroken and with no one to lean on. (Everyone offered the same advice and she cut them all off because of it.) I realised that I would often vent my frustration to Tim on front of the kids, and I don’t think this was right, because it just looks like gossip.

    I’ve always empahasised that the best friends you will ever have are your siblings; they will be there no matter what. So even if we don’t see others, we can still model good friendship behaviour, just in our own house.

    • I know what you mean, Jess. The man in our house has a tendency to call bad drivers names while we’re on the road. I’ve had to jump on him a bit to stop because I don’t want Miss T to learn the words and, even worse, use them.

      I hope my girls grow up being best friends too. They can each other’s training buddies. Miss T probably feels she’s got the raw end of the deal right now since her baby sister is too young to understand not to snatch or hit or pull hair, but tables will turn soon enough. That day will be fun!

  6. I think the dynamics of friendships and social life have more to do with personalities than modelling. If you are an introvert, then there is not much to do about it – you can struggle to host dinner parties and catch up with friends every weekend and it will be a struggle. From personal experience, I’d say that if you have introverted children it is more important to teach them to accept who they are and not see themselves inferior to their outgoing peers (something I struggled a lot with during my teenage years and even later). If they are extroverts, they’ll find a way to entertain friends and have a lively social life whether you like it or not.

    On the other hand, how you treat others (respect, kindness, empathy) can and should be modeled.

    • You raise a good point, Tat. Personalities do influence a lot and accepting who we are is critical. I am more introverted than extroverted and I do remember even being so shy on my 12th birthday I wanted to stay and help my mother with the food than play with my friends. I don’t yet know what my girls will be like though I suspect possibly more on the introverted side than extroverted. We will see.

  7. You’re asking some pertinent questions here, Veronica.
    I am, by nature, an extrovert. The boys are becoming exposed to more and more of my friends as it gets easier to travel around with twins. But there is still this initial shy nature about them when they meet someone. It takes me by surprise because if it was one thing they would take after me, was my social behaviour. But I’ve become more relaxed about it now. I know they’ll develop their beautiful personalities their own way. There is also the fact that they have each other as a constant. I was 7 years younger than my middle brother and 10 from the eldest. So, I grew up mostly alone. So, again…the dynamics are going to be different, I guess.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this Grace. It’s interesting to wonder whether we are introverted or extroverted by nature or nurture or a bit of both. Tat raised a good point about how our personalities significantly affect the way we relate to others, probably more than modelling. I’m not sure what my girls are going to be like but it will be interesting to see.

  8. Yes I have often thought about how my desire to be a hermit affects the children, not just in the example I am setting but also in the lack of opportunity to make their own connections. Of course now they are at school they have some opportunity. With DD1 I was not very social at all and I can see that she often feels uncomfortable in some social situations. Even though they are younger the other 2 are much more receptive to new people and situations because of a greater level of exposure.

    • Hopefully school helps them adjust to others, Rhi. At home we can model the values we feel important in dealing with people such as kindness, sharing, consideration, empathy, respect and, as Jess from Diary of a SAHM said, she teaches her children to practice these values with each other. Good advice.

  9. Actually, I find myself thinking about role modelling a lot. Because I have boys – and I know this is a bit of a cliche and doesn’t apply to everyone’s boys – I’m very conscious about communicating feelings and not just going ahead with actions unannounced. I find myself saying stuff like, ‘I need to be alone right now because I’m feeling very frustrated and need to calm down.’ Rather than just going to another room and not explaining why – that sort of thing. I also say stuff in the positive, like, ‘It’s such a beautiful day outside, I feel so light and happy, let’s do something fun!’ I think I’m definitely more conscious about relating my feelings to actions because I have boys, and I’m not sure I’d be as conscious about it with daughters because girls are not portrayed in society as having difficulties expressing their emotions.

    • You raise a very valid point about role modelling to boys. I’m not in that situation so wouldn’t have even thought about it. I’m have the opposite situation since I have two girls. I’ve picked up a lot of themes through the comments of imparting values of empathy, consideration, sharing, respect, which are great, but I suppose along the way, our children will need to learn to relate to the opposite sex and develop healthy relationships with them. I’m going to have to rope hubby in on those lessons!

  10. I wish we could have more get together with friends more often and I wish my old friends lived close by. But when we do have weekends free we make sure we book something with friends. We’ve had five straight weekends catching up with different close friends and it’s been great for my little one. It’s something we want to keep doing next year.

    • I do think it’s good the little ones see us with others. I know my little girl is always observing now and asking what’s up, what’s happening, what’s wrong. She is developing such an awareness of others. She also loves playing with other children, as I saw on the weekend at a christening. I’m not an extrovert, more of a homebody, so I’m going to have to make more of an effort to create those opportunities for her, even simple ones.

  11. Hmm, I don’t think about this too much. We have a big close knit family so the kids are exposed to lots of get togethers and seem to be quite comfortable in large groups. It was the same for us growing up, so I don’t know any other way! Both kids are great at making instant friends, so I hope that confidence lasts.

    • That’s lovely, Laney. Family is a great place to learn consideration and empathy, kindness and warmth for others as a kid. I grew up with a big, close knit family on my dad’s side (though some of that has changed now we’ve grown up) but my mum’s side was tiny. Now I live interstate from my immediate family, my daughter’s are growing up with barely any relatives on hubby’s side – pretty much MIL. All my siblings, parents, their cousins are interstate. That’s where we are heading for Christmas! It makes me just a bit sad to leave every new year though.

  12. My parents NEVER had friends over. And I mean NEVER. I remember thinking that was a bit weird because other adults would have friends over for dinners etc. Now that I’m a ‘grown up’ and have my own children, we do have friends over regularly. For dinner, lunch, drinks… I don’t have many friends but the ones I do have, we see quite regularly and I really like that. I did think recently about how my kids would learn to be “friends” by the kind of friend I am. I like to think I’m a good friend but I can also be a bit bitchy sometimes and I need to watch out for that. My kids will no doubt pick it up!

    • I need a bigger home to have more people over. Right now, the place is a sight for sore eyes due to lack of storage. Maybe I can start small with afternoon teas and take it from there. You’ve inspired me to consider it. I know what you mean about being careful with what we say, Anna. They do pick it all up. They force us to be careful and consider our attitudes so often, don’t they?

  13. I could totally relate to your comment about your toddler picking up on what you say or what you do. Mine does the same. Today she sat in the corner of the couch I usually sit on, grabbed a magazine to “read” and pulled a blanket over her – just like what I do!

    • Ha ha! It’s a bit freaky when you see yourself in their behaviour. Sometimes it’s just the oddest, random things they pick up. They keep us on our toes. I am reminded to keep any bad behaviour I have in check more and more since my toddler is getting more and more observant.

  14. I did grow up with social parents and never thought about whether that influences our socializing. My hubby has more reserved parents and yet he is even more keen than i am sometimes .. hmm the more I think about it, I do think he has to work at staying social as it does not come naturally. Overall I think we make an effort to model friendships and socialising even though neither of us has a best friend.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, Deb. A few others have highlighted the influence of personality on how we relate to others, and the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree. I think how we relate to others still plays a significant role as well. Basic human decency, consideration and kindness go a long way in teaching respect for people, whether they are friends or mere acquaintances.

  15. I’ve thought a lot about this. I have some friends who ‘hang out’ with each other all the time – so their kids constantly see adult friendships being modelled. I long for this with my family. In saying that, we do see family a bit, so they see our interaction there. My kids have managed to form some good friendships on their own, so as far as our modelling goes, I think it could quite possibly related to the child’s personality and how they see my husband and I treating each other.

    • Thanks, Debbie, for sharing your thoughts. I think personality does play a part, just as how we model the way we treat others plays a part. Someone else suggested the family unit itself can be a great training ground to treat respect and consideration, sibling to sibling. I think that’s true too.

  16. This does cross my mind now and again. I model good friendships, with kindness, unconditional love, and respect, rather than many friendships, but I do worry that sometimes my lack of desire to make friends with school mummies hinders my girls socially. They’re pretty good at forming friendships and making their own arrangements though, and my good friends all have kids of a similar age that they’ve grown up with.

    • I like that you’ve highlighted modelling kindness, unconditional love and respect, Jayne. In any relationship, these should form part of the foundation. We probably don’t need many friends but I also know that sometimes I might have to go out of my comfort zone to demonstrate how to develop contacts and possibly deeper friendships. I have started to make an effort for my daughter too by befriending the mother of her best friend at childcare so we can organise playdates. I also nudged hubby to do the same with a friend she knows from swimming. He is probably, otherwise, even more reticent than I tend to be.

  17. So far in my parenting, I have noticed that modeling is the number one way that my kids learn. I can try and teach them with words, ask them not to do something that I don’t like etc but as you mentioned, its the little things they pick up by osmosis that indicate that they are always watching, absorbing and modeling. I haven’t thought about how it related to friendships but it makes sense doesn’t it?

    Actually this year one of my values for my personal goals is ‘friendship’…..because I have endured several lonely years, moving countries and just decided that this year it was going to be different. It has been too – Im quite shy and introverted but I have made myself chat with mums at school, I have been to a lot of networking events for work and we have even made friends with the neighbors – a couple who we now catch up with every 2 weeks or so. My 7yo once asked me why I didn’t have any play dates last year but she hasnt asked me this year 🙂

    • Thanks for opening up about this, Kirri. It’s not easy making new friends but that’s great you’ve made contacts with others. I have made one through childcare with the mother of my daughter’s best friend. I hope to continue this as the girl’s go to school.

      My daughter is increasingly attuned to what’s going on around and asking lots of questions about who’s on the phone, whether we are okay if I call out because I’ve dropped something, for example. I can see her increasingly watching how I interact with others even if I’m not aware she is.

  18. We are very social in this house and we have an open home policy where our friends and the kids friends are always welcome to pop in. I love the spontoneity of this and we have had many a playdate that has turned into a BBQ dinner when the kids parents come to pick them up. To me it takes the pressure away from the planning of it all – which I believe is the most exhuasting part. We get to meet some great people through our kids friends and some of my closest firendships are with the mothers of my childrens mates. xx

    • This is an interesting take, Sonia. It does take the pressure off organisation and I agree the very thought of that is off-putting. I don’t know anyone else with such a policy. Living in an apartment makes this type of thing a bit tough but maybe, one day.

  19. We homeschool and my eldest is ten and was an only child until two years ago, so I have always been careful to give her good opportunities to socialise and worried that she might struggle a little like me at times. In her case, however I needn’t have been too concerned. She does fine as long as the opportunities are there. I’d still like her to see me enjoying great friendships and being a great friend though. It’s definitely something to wor at.

    • Homeschooling and the age gap must add an interesting twist to making relationships. Instead of things happening organically as they might in school, it needs more deliberate actions. It’s good she seems to be doing ok.

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