What Does it Mean to be Intentional in Friendships?
An intentional friendship is a relationship where both individuals actively choose to build and maintain a connection. It involves conscious effort and commitment from both sides to nurture and develop an intentional friendship.
With intentional friendships, people make a deliberate choice to invest time and energy in each other. This might involve regular communication and spending quality time together. An intentional friendship also means being present for the good times and offering emotional support during the challenging times. This often leads to a deeper and more meaningful connection.
In contrast, unintentional friendships may be formed more casually, without specific effort or a conscious decision to cultivate the relationship. They may happen by chance or circumstance. There’s no reason, though, that such a relationship can’t go on to become an intentional friendship.
How Do you Build Intentional Relationships?
Building intentional relationships involves conscious and purposeful actions. It also takes time and effort.
For kids, forming friendships is a huge part of their developmental journey. Making true friends is not necessarily as easy as it looks – particularly for some (see How Best to Parent Introvert Kids). Children need to figure out who they might have a connection with, and, over time, which friendships are genuine.
Here are some tips for building intentional friendships and how you as a parent can support your child to do so successfully:
What are their Priorities?
It’s important that even young kids understand their own values and priorities in relationships. Support your child by helping them think about what they’re looking for in a friend and also what they’re willing to contribute to a friendship. For example, is it important to them to have a friend who is kind? Can they also recognise that it’s important for them to demonstrate kindness to that friend as well?
Are they looking for a friend who is funny, or perhaps outgoing or who likes reading? It’s fantastic for kids to be able to identify what they’re looking for in a friend – but spend time talking about what qualities they have that they can bring to the friendship too.
Be Genuine and Authentic
One of the most significant things in a friendship is for a child to be themselves and show authenticity. Authenticity encourages trust. Not only that: being authentic means you’re more likely to find the right kind of friends for you. A good friendship should allow you to feel confident in yourself and who you are. If your child needs a bit of help with this, try 170 Affirmations for Growth Mindset or gain some inspiration from 34 Quotes About Strong Daughters and How to Raise Them.
Encourage your child to give praise when it’s due (for example, if their friend wins a race, or paints a lovely picture). Always be sincere when giving praise – find something you admire to praise and make sure you really mean it. I’ve written more on this in How To Encourage Kindness For Kids.
Share your feelings honestly but appropriately. While being genuine is great, it’s also worth supporting your child to understand that we don’t have to share or say everything – especially when it may hurt another person’s feelings and achieve very little else.
Watch and Listen
Good friendships aren’t just about talking nonstop. They’re also about observing, listening and following cues. Talk to your child about active listening (this will help them understand their friends better). Observing friends and their behaviour (for example, recognising when they seem upset) is another valuable skill to learn.
An intentional friendship would prioritise the demonstration of empathy by acknowledging and validating the feelings of others. There’s more on empathy (particularly relevant if you have sons) in this post: How Do We Boost Empathy in Boys?
However, if you suspect your child might be an empath/ highly sensitive, talk to them about the worth of protecting themselves. Try to help them limit the extent to which they take on other people’s feelings and potentially become consumed by them. If you feel this is relevant for your child, read Self-Care for Empaths and for more information on this subject, consider reading one of these Best Books for Empaths.
Invest Time and Energy:
Encourage your kids to make a conscious effort to spend time with the people they want to build relationships with. Many teens (and adults) are worried about putting themselves out there and being proactive about suggesting meet-ups. But someone has to make the first move – why not let it be you?
Prioritising a relationship means giving time and energy towards nurturing it. We can’t expect people to want to continue to be our friends if we don’t make time for them. For older kids and teens, investing time in friendships might mean checking in on friends, messaging and calling them, particularly when they might need support. An intentional friendship means not cancelling unless absolutely necessary, and not taking up a ‘better offer’ when it seems like one comes along.
Be a Good Communicator:
Communicating well is another skill we can work on. Kids can be encouraged to express their own boundaries and expectations within friendships and help others feel able to do the same. It’s favourable when children feel comfortable saying when they don’t want to do something, and also happy expressing their passions and interests without fear of reprisal and judgement.
While we don’t have control over others, we can lead by example and try not to judge others for their likes and dislikes, their passions and their fears. Instead, we can listen and reassure when others open up to us. And it’s always worth remembering how important it is to only speak to others as we’d like to be spoken to ourselves!
Emotional intelligence is key to good communication. Find out more in The 5 Components of Emotional Intelligence.
Friendships don’t solely need to be between individuals with the same interests – but of course, it helps to have some things in common. Bonds are forged by way of shared experiences so perhaps you could encourage your child to try new things in support of their friend (for example, they may never have ridden a horse – but could they give it a try because their friend is mad about horses)?
If your child loves a particular activity and attends clubs outside of school, this is a great opportunity to build friendships with kids who have similar interests. You never know, they might even grow up to support each other if they continue with their endeavours and have lifelong friendships.
Support and Encourage
Sometimes we (not just kids) might feel in competition with our friends. We might want what they have, we might feel we deserved the award rather than them, or sad that we didn’t win that race. However, it’s important to be supportive of our friends’ goals and endeavours.
We need to be gracious in defeat and celebrate with our friends when they succeed. There are enough opportunities for success for every one of us – they aren’t finite. If we support and encourage our friends, they’re likely to support and encourage us too. Intentional relationships mean being each others’ cheerleaders! These are all things you can remind your child.
Don’t be Quick to Blame
Encourage your children (especially older kids) to address conflicts constructively. Don’t let arguments fester. Try to resolve things without apportioning blame. If they do feel boundaries were overstepped, they can let their friend know (see Communication), but being quick to blame others will often encourage defensiveness and heels to be dug in even deeper.
Instead, focus on finding solutions rather than placing blame. Don’t bad mouth friends to others – it’s likely to get back to them and things can get twisted in the process. Try to approach them directly if there’s a falling out. If that doesn’t work, at least you’ve tried.
An intentional friendship is one where appreciation of the other’s positive qualities and actions are shown. All too often, we forget to show our gratitude towards our friends. We can’t necessarily be positive in our behaviour every minute of every day (remember, we need to be genuine and authentic)! However, we can try and be positive as much as possible – positive about our friend, positive about the friendship and positive about what they’re doing and life in general (especially if they could do with an injection of positivity in their lives).
If you want to read more on this subject, take a look at How To Help Your Kids Overcome the Negativity Bias.
A good friend is reliable (see Invest Time and Energy). They stick to plans which are made and are there when needed.
Being reliable also means being trustworthy. If a friend shares sensitive information, they should feel able to trust you with this. Similarly, reliability means following through on your promises and being consistent as a friend. If a person is unpredictable and inconsistent, it makes it less likely that others will want to invest in that friendship.
Support your child to clearly communicate their boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. The difference between healthy vs unhealthy friendships often has to do with boundaries. Healthy boundaries contribute to a balanced and respectful relationship.
Examples of not respecting the boundaries of others include pushing people into doing something they might not want to do or making them feel uncomfortable or undervalued for who and how they choose to be.
Friendships grow and evolve. It’s helpful to be open to change within a relationship. It’s not a bad idea to think about evaluating relationships and explore whether both parties are still meeting each other’s needs. Some friendships are seasonal friendships; they’re not meant to last forever. Being intentional in friendships can sometimes mean letting go of a relationship when it’s no longer meeting one or both parties’ needs.
However, many times, friendships can be repaired and continued as long as we are willing to adapt to the evolving needs and dynamics of the relationship. We can help our children to understand that friendships sometimes change, as do we as individuals. It’s a good idea to be flexible rather than try and fight against that change. Accept that we, and others, grow and develop – sometimes together and sometimes apart. Nonetheless, we can maintain mutual respect and appreciation either way.