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The Sturdy Virtues of Friendship

A how-to guide for you and your children

By Sue Haggerty

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure.” (Sirach 6:14)

I sat on the stairs leading down to the basement at my childhood home, talking on the phone to my friend Rebekkah. “Allison doesn’t like you, so we’ll have to be secret friends,” I whispered.

Earlier that day at school, my friend and I jumped rope together on the blacktop when Allison – the “popular girl” – looked disdainfully at us. She called me over and asked, “Why are you playing with her? She’s so uncool.” Feeling the pressure to fit in, I did one of the stupidest things of my childhood. I turned my best friend into my “secret” friend. Gone were the many wonderful afternoons spent at Rebekkah’s house in a world of imagination with no pressure, no expectations, and no cross-eyed looks. Unable to stand up to the pressure, I lost a magical friendship and instead gained a superficial, fleeting acquaintance.

Sue Haggerty and her husband, Pat, are parents to five active children: Moira (9), Orla (7), Aoife (5), Eamon (3), and Oisin (2).

There have been other missed opportunities for true friendship throughout my life. I can’t go back to those moments, but I can teach my children today what it means to be a true friend, and to recognize those qualities in others. Here are some of the most important virtues found in true friendship and suggestions for how your family can practice them:

Charity 
Charity is loving God with our whole heart above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is the call of every Christian, for as Christ said: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

To Do: Pick flowers to bring to church. Put money in the poor box. Write a letter to a loved one.

Gratitude 
As a wise priest once said, “Children are born selfish. It’s your job as parents to teach them not to be.” While toddlers may not appreciate the value of handing over their favorite toy to a playmate, it is their first exposure to the beauty of a shared life. Though the practice of gratitude can be quite painful to a young child, they may see not only the effects of their generosity in the smile of a friend as they age, but also learn to appreciate people’s generosity toward them.

To Do: Plant a flower or vegetable garden with your kids. Let them see the fruits of their labor and share the bounty with a neighbor. Assign weekly chores to teach them the value of helping out. Give your child a gratitude journal to fill out in the evening.

Honesty 
True friendship relies on a foundation of trust. One component of trust is honesty, always telling the truth.

To Do: Read the Aesop story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to your children. Teach them the popular acronym T.H.I.N.K. before you speak – is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind? Help them put this motto into practice.

Humility 
Humility is seeing ourselves and others as we are. It allows us not only to recognize our limitations but also to give proper consideration to our God-given talents. Teaching our children that God has blessed each and every one of us with unique talents helps our little ones appreciate the beauty of God’s love. It also helps them to move beyond boasting and envy.

To Do: Help your child avoid comparing themselves to others. Teach your children the importance of accepting correction graciously from you, a coach or a teacher. Apologize to your children and encourage an environment of forgiveness in your family.

Fortitude 
Fortitude is the virtue that gives your children courage to stand up for themselves and others in the face of injustice. Practice makes perfect, perseverance amid adversity – values which will give our children the grit to stand up when the going gets tough.

To Do: Teach your children proper assertiveness. Role play instances in which your child needs to speak up for himself or herself. While true friendship requires self-sacrifice, it does not require that we become doormats. It’s important to know the difference.

Courtesy/Respect 
Everyone we come into contact with is Christ. We are all made in the image and likeness of God and are God’s children. We all deserve to be treated with respect.

To Do: Teach your children the importance of manners, making eye contact, and being wholly present to the people they are with.

Integrity 
Integrity means being “whole.” It means we have values and put them into practice. It means that what we say is also what we are going to do, and that we treat everyone with respect. We do not put on different personalities for different groups while hiding our true selves.

To Do: Teach your children responsibility and the consequences of bad choices, as well as how to set priorities and to follow through. Help them develop their talents and skills.

By building a sturdy shelter of virtues, our children will not only be a good friend but know when they have found one as well.

Sue Haggerty, a freelance writer from Virginia, is married to her best friend, Pat. They have been blessed with five children who help them encounter Christ.

ENGAGE AND INTERACT: What is the best way to teach your kids virtue – personal example, talks, movies or another method?