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Childhood Friendships

All work and no play… is bad for your child! Relationships with other people are important for children’s emotional development.

This guide will help you to understand the importance of children building friendships. It will also show you how to assist their development, especially if your child is shy. It can be used to help sort out difficulties that may arise in children’s friendships too.

Why are friendships important?

National Children's Bureau research states that children from poor backgrounds are more likely to encounter friendship problems, be vulnerable to bullying, or lack parental support. Over a third of poorer children spend playtime on their own.

Research shows that children without friends can develop emotional and mental difficulties later in life. Belonging, feeling valued, and having support helps confidence and emotional resilience.

Friendship teaches children:

  • Empathy – understanding other people’s feelings, learning how to be kind, tolerant and sympathetic to others
  • Social interaction – communicating and listening; sharing; playing fairly and developing patience
  • Problem-solving; resolving arguments; collaborating and mediating with others
  • To be open-minded and accepting of difference and diversity. Particularly if they make friends with children with different personalities and abilities, or from different social backgrounds and cultures
  • To enjoy the school experience. Friendship motivates your child to learn and improves their performance

Making friends

How can parents help?

  • Be a good role model: show friendship, kindness and caring to others
  • Encourage your child to participate in clubs, sports and groups. Friends share hobbies and interests
  • Practice conversation skills. Teach them to ask questions and how to listen, be polite and interested in other people
  • Praise them when they show friendliness towards other children. For example, if they let a friend play with their new toy
  • Help them to develop empathy. By the age of six or seven, children can understand other people’s feelings and points of view. If they tell you about something that happened at school, ask how people felt and why they behaved like they did. When reading with your child, ask them how they think a character is feeling, and why
  • Encourage positive friendships and suggest your child spends time with friends. Make their friends feel welcome in your home and suggest they invite them for dinner
  • Set up outings for them with other parents and persuade them to sign up for sports, hobbies and new activities – a great opportunity to meet new people!
  • Sites like healthychildren.org offer guidance on helping children to develop friendships throughout childhood
  • Talk to your child about your own experiences
  • If you feel they are struggling at school, don’t hesitate to speak to someone. If it seems that your child has no friends and is unhappy, talk to your child's teacher, school or a professional, for guidance

Teach your child how to handle social situations

You have taught your child to say please and thank you, and how to share. Continue coaching your child in any new or difficult situations.

  • Brainstorm ideas about how to handle the situation
  • Practise some scenarios, and role-play or discuss what they might say, or do, or think. For example, let your child rehearse what to say when they arrive at another child’s birthday party
  • Encourage them to think of how other people feel. Seeing things from someone else’s point of view builds empathy and emotional resilience

Challenge negative thinking

Your child might be self-conscious, or scared of making friends. Ask them to imagine approaching another child and asking them if they want to play. If your child is worried that they will say no, ask: ‘Why would they say no?’

If their first answer is a negative one, like: ‘Because they hate me,’ keep asking: ‘What else might stop them playing with you?’ or ‘What might they be feeling?’

Encourage them to think of alternative possibilities – reasons that are not self-critical. Let them think up more sympathetic answers: the other child might be too shy, or feel scared, or not have the right footwear for playing ball, etc.

Friendship difficulties

Establish a positive relationship with your child, so they feel confident about discussing any problems they’re encountering with friends. Some children struggle with maintaining relationships or handling their emotions. They take disagreements to heart.

More useful information can be found on the Young Minds website.

Falling out with friends

As with any close relationships, there are sometimes squabbles or differences of opinion. For your child, falling out with a friend may seem like the end of the world. For them, in their world, it is. Help them to cope.

Acknowledge their feelings without judging them. For example, say, "It sounds like you feel upset about ----."

Be sympathetic, but discuss their options. Talk about ways they might approach this problem, and reassure them that all will be well. Let them know you are there to support them through any minor disagreements.

Some children tend to keep problems to themselves. 67% of children from well-off backgrounds talk to their mothers about problems, compared with only 58% of children from poorer backgrounds. Encourage them to talk to you. Let them know they don’t have to struggle alone.

Bullies

The issue of bullying can occur, even within friendship groups. Since 46% of children admit that they have been bullied, this may be a concern for parents. Depression and reluctance to go to school can quickly set in.

Let your child know you are there to help them.

The NHS Live Well site can help.

And finally…

If you are concerned about your child having too many / not enough friends, remember that they might just have a different social style than yours.

Introverts replenish their energy by spending time alone. Extroverts gain energy from being with other people. Neither is better than the other – they are just different preferences. However, your child will need to be flexible and adaptable in life, and to feel comfortable in all situations – whether with one close friend or in a group of acquaintances.

You can’t make friends for your child, but your love and support will help your child to make friends on their own.

  1. Friendships have been observed in children from what age onward?
    By the time they reach 4 years of age most children are capable of building and maintaining friendships and some begin at just 2 years old. Don't be fooled into thinking these friendships aren't important - they go a long way in supporting emotional development and in forging future frindships
  2. Friendship brings many benefits. Which of the following is NOT associated with a child having good friends?
    Having friends helps us to feel good about ourselves, giving us more confidence and higher self-esteem. This also improves our mental health, making us less prone to depression and anxiety, which in turn benefits our physical health. Friendships are good for most aspects of our lives, but can't guarantee us high-earning careers - not unless our friends are in high places!
  3. Peer pressure can be a bad point in some friendships. It's a good idea to coach your child so they know how to act if a friend offers them alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. Which of the following would NOT be a good response in that situation?
    Self-righteousness is never a good thing and branding their friends as bad people is not the way to go. Rather, a simple but firm 'no thanks' does the job. Alternatively your child could suggest another activity, change the subject or resort to the old favourite - the consequences of being found out. Of course, as a last resort your child should break off a friendship that might lead them astray, but as a good friend they should first try to discourage their peers from drinking, smoking or taking drugs themselves
  4. According to research, children with the most friends have certain attributes. Which of the following is NOT on the list?
    The most popular children care about their friends. They are willing to help them and to share things with them. They also restrain their selfish or aggressive feelings. Finally, they are good at communicating with others. Whilst it is true that children from poorer backgrounds tend to have fewer friends, this factor is much less important in friendships than a child's behaviour and personality
  5. There are some things which come naturally to some but others need to be taught. Which of these might it be good to remind your child to do in social situations?
    Shy children in particular may need social coaching. For example, you might say to them, 'Make sure you look at aunty Susan when she's talking to you'. Little things like these can boost or inhibit a child's ability to make friends
  6. According to a recent study, what percentage of children have no close friends?
    For adults the figures are even worse with 43% saying they have no close friends at work. These numbers show that the problem is quite widespread and needs addressing
  7. At what age are children most likely to fall out with their friends?
    A lot of major changes happen to children at that age - change of school, onset of puberty, feeling more grown up, etc. All of these can make children re-evaluate their friendships with past relationships coming to an end and new ones forming
  8. Banter is a part of friendship, particularly amongst boys. But banter can turn into bullying. Which of the following are signs of bullying rather than of banter?
    Banter, by its very definition, is harmless fun. It is not meant to hurt anybody's feelings and all participants should give as good as they get. If the 'jokes' become personal or hurtful then they are no longer banter but bullying. Make sure that your child is aware that bullying often occurs within supposed friendships
  9. What is the average number of close friends, according to a survey carried out in 2010?
    The survey found that most of us have 3 close friends, 22 'mates' and 100 acquaintances. This ties in with research carried out by the anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He says that we are suited to having no more than 5 close friends, 10 'mates', 35 more distant friends and 100 acquaintances. Those of us with hundreds of friends on Facebook most likely know few of them very well at all!
  10. A study by Purdue University found that friendships formed in which institution last the longest?
    There are a few lucky people who remain friends with the same group throughout their lives. However, friends we make as children often fall by the wayside as our personalities and interests change. By the time we get to college or university our character is almost formed and we choose friends with a similar outlook to ourselves. Unsurprisingly, these friendships last the longest

 

Author: Linda Innes

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