Understanding Friendship For Children

Parents can provide love and support that make it possible for your child to meet new people and make friends.....

When we come to the topic of friends, one thing is clear: everyone needs friends. I remember my childhood full of constant change of rental houses, resulting in me making new friends again and again. I was a very reserved child. Making friends was difficult for me. Even when I finally made some friends, it was time to move, again. This was one thing that I hated the most. For me friends and friendship was special and I believe it is special for every child.

The word 'friends' is so commonly used that people usually take it as something normal and not see its significance for a child. So what exactly is a friend? If you go by Aristotle's definition, "It's a single soul dwelling in two bodies". So much so that best friends acquire each other's behaviors and mannerisms, language and preferences. I remember while in school our whole group had the same type of handwriting. We even enjoyed same kinds of songs and similar sports.

Friends promote mental health and overall wellbeing for children of all ages. Friends and friendship is important for their social and emotional development. Just by having friends, children learn to relate with others, as they teach each other skills of being a good friend, and acquire social skills at the same time. Most children want to have friends. Children with friends are likely to be more confident and academically sound. Children constantly learning positive friendship skills are found to be happy and confident. These children are constantly making and retaining friends. Having said so, we rarely observe the development of friendship.

Friendship in children starts really early following their development growth and their perception of friendship varies with age. Up to one year just looking, smiling, touching and imitating do the job very well. As the child grows, the criterion for a friend gradually changes. Children between three to six years of age consider those who do something that pleases them as friends. For them friends are momentary playmates and friendship is about just having fun. They assume that other children think the same way. Hence they become upset when their friend has a different opinion, resulting in temporary conflict.

Children between five and nine years consider someone a friend if s/he gives them nice presents, shares things regardless of whether it's toys, time, games, experiences and feelings. Now children gradually learn that they can have their social needs met and they can meet others' needs too. This is also the time they start considering others' feelings and are interested in knowing how other people think about issues and objects. Indicating that they are gradually growing, they start caring a lot about friendship. Sometimes children from this age group tolerate someone they don't like just because they want to make new friends. Sometimes they might even use friendship as a bargaining chip. The next level of friendship includes fairness and cooperation and playing by the rules. This includes age group seven to twelve years.

For this age group close friendship is not just mutual exchange, but based on well-matched needs and skills, which change as they grow. They are able to consider a friend's perspective in addition to their own, but not at the same time. That means they understand turn taking, but they can't really step back and get an observer's perspective that would allow them to see patterns of interaction in their relationships. They are concerned about fairness and reciprocity. If they do something nice for a friend they expect that friend to do something nice for them at the next opportunity. If this doesn't happen, the friendship is likely to fall apart. Children in this stage are somewhat judgmental of both themselves and others.

Next level of friendship includes intimate, mutually shared relationships; this is also caring and sharing stage. Children aged eight to fifteen years are very much into solving each other's problems among friends; they also share and confide thoughts and feelings with each other that they don't usually share with others. They are familiar with compromising and genuinely care about each other's happiness.

They place high value on emotional closeness with friends and even accept and appreciate differences between themselves and their friends. Not being possessive, they're less likely to feel threatened if their friends have other relationships. Showing signs of mature friendship that emphasizes trust and support while remaining close over time. I know at this point you are thinking, 'Can parents contribute to this process?'

Yes, it's the parents who contribute actively in preparing the child to interact successfully with his/her peers because a child is born without social skills. Parents help build key social skills that help with friendship. These include cooperation, communication, empathy, emotional control and responsibility. In the process, parents and caretakers can provide children with opportunities to play with peers to gain experience and learn important social skills.

Parents are the coaches who teach positive social skills to their children, and help children use new skills in real-life situations. The most important thing for a parent is to help children solve friendship conflicts. Talking about problems with a supportive adult helps children think rationally about what happens, how they feel about it and what to do next. Thinking things through helps to build more mature social skills.

Finally, if as a parent you are concerned about your child not making enough friends, consider this: it is entirely possible that your child has a different social style to yours. You can play a crucial role in your child's social development. You can be a good role model but you cannot make friends for him/her. You can however provide your love, patience, and support that make it possible for your child to meet new people and make friends on their own. Now that is not too much of an expectation from a parent. Or is it?


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