Most of us depend on our friends for lots of things and happiness is just one thing that goes hand-in-hand with friendships. But while friendships are a very important part of the lives of most of us, it is easy to take them for granted. We like having friends, we enjoy their company, we learn a lot from them and they help make us who we are. But have you ever stopped to think about how friendships are made? How does a friendship start? How do we choose who we will be friends with? How do we get to know people well? What makes a friendship resilient; able to cope with the ups and downs?
We also know how we feel when something goes wrong. When friendships fall apart we can feel anger, sadness, loneliness and a mixture of many other feelings. But can we reverse a friendship that is going badly? How can we keep friendships happy and healthy?
Mates Traits is a very simple but unusual tool that helps us think about the elements of good friendships. Being able to identify the dimensions of friendships is perhaps the first step in knowing how to make good choices in the friends we make.
And thinking more about good friendships can help us avoid the sadness of things gone wrong such as bullying, loneliness, despondency and manipulation.
When we are visited by strangers
Sometimes knowing how to become friends with someone new can be very difficult. It might be a new person who joins a class or sports team. It might be going to a party where there are people you have never met before. Or it could even be that cousins you don’t know well are coming to stay or that mum and dad are foster parents and will sometimes care for children who are complete strangers in your home.
How we make friends can be a tricky business at the best of times. But when new relationships are thrust upon us and perhaps threaten other long-standing relationships or routines, negotiating a successful pathway into a new friendship can be very difficult indeed.
Rather than merely accepting that such new ‘imposed’ friendships will work out somehow Mates Traits provides a way of taking preemptive action. The introduction of Mates Traits into a classroom or family conversation before the new arrival appears can provide a positive context that may well increase the likelihood of mutual acceptance.
In foster care, for example, sometimes it is the children of the caregivers who feel put out when new children arrive and they are expected to share their home, their toys and their parents. In Mates Traits perhaps there is the opportunity to build a positive expectation of what new friendships may mean and to talk about ways of being friends even if the foster children disrupt some family routines.
Mates Traits is a tool that can be used by:
- Parents—to build conversations with their children about safe friendships (and how kids and their parents can stay friends!)
- Teachers—to develop healthy cooperative learning environments and conversations about values that can prevent bullying and self-harm
- youth workers—on camps and adventure activities to build trusting relationships and celebrate the friendships that have emerged
- family workers—to strengthen sibling relationships and prepare caregivers’ children for the pressures of foster care
- sports coaches—to develop teamwork
- social workers/school welfare staff—in problem-solving and decision-making activities
- pastoral care workers—as a means of dealing with loss and grief
Some of the questions you can ask to help build conversations around the meaning and significance of friendships might be:
- What are the most important things you think friends should do together?
- Do you do different things with different friends? How does this feel? Is it okay?
- How do you go about making friends?
- Can you have good friends who are very different from you? How does this work?
- Have you ever lost a friend? What happened? Is there anything that you would now do differently?
- Why do you think some friendships last a long time and other friendships just seem to fade away?
- How is it that some people seem to stay very good friends for a long time even when they don’t see each other much?
- If there was a series of friendship awards to be handed out, which of the 32 Mates Traits would you like to win the award for? In other words, what do you think you do well with your friends?
For more great ideas on using Mates Traits, check out our Ideas Bank