This concept has been so helpful to me as I have helped my children navigate friendships over the years. Line up four chairs and have your child sit on an end. You sit in the chair furthest from them and explain how anyone they meet is a 3rd chair friend. You might say “hi” or ask how they are doing, but they remain far away from your heart. Move to the next chair and explain this is a 2nd chair friend. You might say “hi” and sit with them at lunch, laugh with them in class, or even hang out at the mall together. You have fun with them and enjoy being around them. But your 1st chair is the one closest to you. These people know you at your worst and best and everything in between. They make you laugh hard and have the power to influence you. No one starts in the 1st chair. They have to be invited in, and it is cultivated over time. Over the years, we have seen this played out as friends change chairs. When they come home excited about someone they have met, we celebrate the connection, but I am aware that there is a process of connection developing and asking questions along the way.
Emma came home excited one day about a new ‘best friend.’ They had fun together and giggled hard. But over time, the friend began to invite Emma to do things that went against what we stood for as a family. She had to learn she could surely still giggle and be friends with this gal but pulling her into her 1st chair would not go well with her down the road. Lauren had a friend who would love her one minute and be so cruel the next. It was a love/hate response; she never knew which one she was getting. The ‘love’ felt so fulfilling and fun that she had difficulty seeing the flip as bad. Because she was learning how to build healthy relationships, I had to help her see that this is not how 1st chair friends treat each other. It was so painful for her to back off the relationship, but years later, she still comments on how glad she was that she could create room for other friends who were indeed 1st chair worthy. I often say, “Either you influence them, or they influence you, so you better make sure you are heading in the same direction.” I have no problems with my children being friends with unbelievers (how else are we going to impact those around us?) or with children from different beliefs and backgrounds. I DO have a problem if those children become 1st chairs. How do you switch chairs? By how much or little you feed it. Help your child pull in new friends closer by inviting them over to join your family for dinner, creating a fun outing, helping them with their homework, asking them how their day went, tell them something they like or appreciate about them. Support the things they like to do, attend their sports games, text to compliment them, and invite them over just for fun. It is impossible to have a 1st chair and only do this once. Building closer friendships take intentionality, consistency, and frequency. If a child has pulled someone in too far too fast before discerning that the connection is not healthy, simply stop feeding the relationship, and it will not grow. I encourage them to sit by the person at their lunch table, say “hi,” and always communicate with the message that they are valuable. But do not invite them to connect deeper or 1:1. If they are invited somewhere, they say they are busy, or their mom says NO. I do not want to empower my children how to reject, hurt, or create a wound in someone so how they navigate their chairs matters. Pull out the chairs and teach your children today about their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd chair friendships.