You cannot put a price tag on friendships – especially quality friendships. Good friends provide a sense of safety and understanding needed for living an emotionally fulfilled life. But how do you go about making good friends? And more importantly, how do we teach this skill set to young children? This article will discuss the key components to building safe and healthy friendships and a few helpful ways to teach these skills to your child from an early age.
How Friendships Are Formed
From the very first moment of meeting a new person, we’re secretly sizing each other up: Who is this person? What are their intentions? Where are they from? Why are they speaking to me? Interacting with someone for the first time can be intimidating, and depending on how well that interaction went can leave us either wanting to get to know that person better- or the complete opposite.
But, if we often begin interacting with new people in this way, how then are friendships formed?
In general, friendships are created from an initial interest point that later develops into a deeper personal connection through acts of support, trust, respect, and care. Generally platonic, friendships provide an additional layer of intimacy and love in a non-sexual way.
Friendships can be created through:
- Shared activities
- Mutual Interests
Friendships can be formed at any time throughout knowing someone and have been shown to have both positive and negative effects on an individual’s overall well-being.
Why Is Friendship Important?
Socialising has a direct impact on our physical and mental health. So much so that having and maintaining quality friendships can alleviate symptoms of depression, extend life expectancy and reason of being. It’s true! Truly fulfilling friendships can give you so much joy that a sense of purpose is realised that otherwise may not have been found because of their very existence.
Challenges Children Face When Making New Friends
When it comes to obtaining this joy, no other group understands the pains and pleasures of making friends like children and young adults. From as early as being at a nursery or creche, children are uprooted from the comforts of home life and plopped inside an environment filled with other anxious kids who, too, are looking for warmth and familiarity. What happens next is an ongoing tug-of-war effort of finding common ground, establishing connections, falling apart, and finally locating their group.
Young children face many challenges when making new friends, including:
- Aggressive behaviour
- Fear and shyness
- Introversion or isolation
- Basic social skills
- Empathy and conflict resolution
- Over stimulus
- Personalities and mood swings
- Situational avoidance
Adding to this list children who are gifted or require additional supervision, you have a blend of unique identities searching for their equal in an ever-shifting sea of differences.
How Young Children Build Friendships
Once a child has found common ground with another, the need to establish a connection grows. They may choose to build that bond through sharing or playing together or become clingy and selective towards talking to other children. Here are typical stages young children go through when attempting to make new friends:
- Interest Stage – The child sees another child they like (aka ‘shiny object’) and fixates on it.
- Observation Stage – The child begins observing and watching the child closely.
- Closeness Stage – The child attempts to get closer to the other child by standing close in line or sitting beside them.
- Interaction Stage – The child begins initiating play or requesting to join activities with the other child.
- Connection Stage – Conversations form, and the need to share secrets and personal stories grow as the child’s need to be around the other child deepens.
- Support Stage – The child feels the need to take care of or comfort the other child during this stage, either by helping them clean up or defending them against another child, animal or adult.
Children may choose to further deepen the connection from the support stage by repeatedly sharing information or performing acts of kindness, proving themselves to be a good friend – or dismantle the relationship altogether, choosing a new person of interest and repeating the ‘shiny object’ stage all over again. Children, after all, are unpredictable.
Teaching Your Child Early On How To Be A Good Friend
There’s no greater time to teach your child the importance of being a good friend than during the early development stages. Without the aggression of hormones, peer pressure, and life experiences, young children are better able to be grasp lessons on empathy, acceptance, and tolerance in a way that leads to a level of respect needed to function in normal society.
Here are a few helpful tips on teaching your child about good friendships:
- Have conversations on what friendship means to them. Knowing how your child sees friendships and, more importantly, how they feel about them will help you navigate hidden minefields of avoidance and possible anger.
- Switch up their environment. Activities such as sports, educational lessons, and self-care activities outside of their normal environment and friend group will give them the chance to meet children and learn how to interact with different backgrounds, belief systems, expectations, and personalities.
- Teach conflict resolution early. As your child gets older, proper conflict resolution will be harder to manage as their personalities and experiences begin to dictate their ways of reasoning and resolution. This is especially important if you have a strong-willed child or one with an avoidant personality.
- Engaging in volunteer activities. Volunteer opportunities are a great way to teach children the importance of helping others in need and developing empathy without lecturing.
For me, I love my quality friendships… and children feel the same way, too. Encouraging them early on to be a good friend is vital.