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When your kids are tiny, you are desperate for them to start making friends (isolated much?). That toddler whose maraca she gummed at Music Together? Instant BFF! But the catch is, once your kids actually do start making connections, their friends may suuuuuck. There’s the amped-up buddy who turns every pre-K playdate into a violent WWE smackdown, the mean girl next door whose influence extends to social media or the middle school shadow who may as well have “bad seed” tattooed on his neck (you just know he’s destined for a neck tattoo). But thwarting the influence of these frenemies is easier than you think. No body slams required.  

RELATED: 5 Reasons Why Having an Imaginary Friend is Good for Your Kid

boys rough housing
Twenty20

Bond but don't bulldoze
The best antidote to a negative influence is being a positive one yourself. And the skills you instill during early childhood will be the foundation of your social sway. Tune a young kid into “that little voice deep inside, otherwise known as her conscience, that tells her to avoid danger,” suggests one expert. Another teacher tells us to sit both kids down when a playdate goes awry and help them brainstorm together, asking "What are some ways we can play to make sure everyone is happy and safe?" But—here's where it gets tricky—once your kids reach adolescence, loosen the reins. Too much parental pressure on middle school-age kids actually makes them more vulnerable to peer influence, says one prominent UVA study: “Without opportunities to practice self-directed, independent decision-making, teens might [more easily] give in to their friends’ [poor] decisions." 

group of young kids
Rawpixel/getty images

Don’t forbid friendships
Criticism, judgment and banning friends can backfire, paving the path to secrecy and rebellion. Besides, there are advantages to letting kids figure out friendships for themselves. “If you want kids who are resilient, you can’t isolate them from social pathogens,” adolescent psychiatrist Timothy Verduin tells Real Simple. “Think about the long view, that you’re training them to handle less-than-ideal people and solve their own problems.”

Model positive relationships
Include your kids when you hang out with your own friends. Demonstrate for them how good friends listen to, laugh with and love each other. Help your besties connect with your kids. (No child ever suffered from having too many aunties in his corner.) And when your child brings home a friend you don't care for, objectively point out your family's rules to everyone in your care. “In our house we…” seems to work every time.

boys in the woods
Imgorthand/getty images

Build up self-esteem
Kids who feel good about themselves make better choices in friends, experts say (conversely, kids who are struggling are more vulnerable to powerful-seeming peers). Listen more than you talk, embrace your child's interests and celebrate her efforts as much as her successes. 

Cultivate better-for-him friendships
It may sound harsh, controlling or, OK, both, but when your kids are young, you have complete jurisdiction over their social lives. Avoid making plans with kids who don’t bring out the best in your own, and actively seek out playdates with ones who do. Bonus points if you also like the parents.

RELATED: 6 Things to Do Right Now If Your Kid Is Being Bullied

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