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Are You Sabotaging Your Child's Friendships?

Photograph by Twenty20

As moms we know how important friends are in our children's lives. But have you ever thought about how important the process of making friends and developing relationships outside the family is?

We might think we know which kid would make the best BFF for our child, but we're robbing them of the opportunity to grow and learn about themselves when we manipulate their friendships. So how come mom doesn't know best?

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Sometimes as a mom you really want your kid to be friends with a certain kid for whatever reason. Whether it's the child of your BFF from book club or that super cool member of your daughter's basketball team, you might engineer the friendship a bit. That makes sense between really young kids—organizing playdates, inviting a neighbor kid to the park—but there really needs to be a point at which you start letting your child choose who to spend his or her free time with.

"All too often in this fast-paced world, we organize things on behalf of our kids without taking the time to consider the things and people our kids truly enjoy. Team sports are the obvious culprit here, but parents even do this with friendships," shares Mom.me contributor Katie Hurley, LCSW, and author of the book "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise a Joyful Child in a Stressful World."

Making friends and working well with others are skills that go from the sandbox to the boardroom.

Your child loses out on learning from the trials and errors of friendships, because not only are you choosing her friends, but you're likely stepping in when there is a problem. This robs kids of the chance to learn who they enjoy spending time with and how to nurture a friendship.

"Sometimes we do it for convenience and sometimes we do it because we have an existing relationship with the parent," Hurley says. "The truth is that childhood is largely based on trial and error. Kids need the opportunity to try on different friendships and find the peer group that works for them."

Hurley shares that all kids are individuals and they all have different needs: "When we engineer their peer groups for them, we fail to take their personalities and needs into account. That's a mistake with long-term consequences."

So what's a mom to do? Try to find ways you can help your child develop friendships without orchestrating them for her. Invite your book club friend and her daughter to join you for an afternoon hike, but let your daughter decide if she wants to get together a second time. Sign your son up for basketball or Cub Scouts if he's interested, then see which boys he seems to enjoy spending time with. Finding friends through common interests is a great way for your children to meet and spend time with people they truly enjoy.

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"Making friends and working well with others are skills that go from the sandbox to the boardroom," shares Hurley. "We need to give our kids the opportunity to hone those skills on their own terms."

So while you might really want your child to hang out with the cool crowd, you're doing him a favor if you let him choose his own friends instead.

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