How to Encourage Friendships between Children

Children form friendships for many reasons. At times it is difficult for parents to understand why two partic­ular children enjoy each other’s company so much. Friendships provide psychological benefits, such as giving a child self-confi­dence, giving her someone to share her secrets with, teaching her about loyalty and sharing, providing someone to compare herself with, and offering emotional support when she feels unhappy. Friendships also provide practical benefits, such as allowing a child to play with her friend’s new bicycle. In fact, many friendships in early childhood are motivated more by this type of self-interest than by feelings of personal attraction.

Genuine friendships don’t usually start until the age of three, because only then is a child able to play cooperatively with others. At this age, children tend to pick friends who have the same interests and are happy to play with children of the opposite sex. Most friendships among three-year-olds fluctuate from week to week because at this age a child is very self-cen­tered. From the age of five or six onwards, children tend to mix more with others of the same sex, and during the next three or four years their friendships become more stable. Usually, not until a child is nine or ten does she begin to form long-lasting friendships. An inability to acquire friends may be an indication that a child has emotional problems.

Most parents would like their child to be popular, to have lots of friends, and to be invited out to play. You feel good when you see your child surrounded by friends of her own age. Popularity, however, partly depends on characteristics over which a child has no control. For instance, popular children tend to be quite bright at school. A child who is physically attractive, as well as sporty, is also likely to be popular.

Popularity also depends on characteristics over which a child does have some control, such as social skills. Being able to take turns, to follow rules in games, and to share, will help your child socially. She has a better chance of being popular if she isn’t aggressive and is prepared to listen to other children’s points of view. Encourage your child to develop these characteristics.

Problems arise when parents disapprove of their child’s friend because the friend behaves in ways that are not acceptable by their standards. This requires delicate and tactful handling:

  • Try to avoid banning your child from playing with a particular friend. This will only make the friendship more desirable. Instead, tell your child why you don’t like her friend (for example, the friend swears, takes toys that aren’t hers, hits other children). Don’t overdo it or your child will think you are being totally unfair. Occasionally, a straightforward ban on a friendship may be your only option—use this strategy only as a last resort.
  • Tell your child why she should not play with her friend. Give practical reasons: for instance, because the friend gets into trouble for hurting other people. Say something like, “People will think you are just like your friend, so you will get into trouble too.”
  • Remind your child that although she likes her friend, she doesn’t have to behave the same way. If you find that your child plays with the friend you dislike, despite all your efforts, suggest to her that although they play together, they don’t have to act like each other.
  • Encourage your child to be friends with different children. This is a more positive approach, and is especially successful with children under the age of six or seven. Invite to your house children with whom you want your child to play, and do your best to give them an enjoyable time. This strategy may allow the friendship of which you don’t approve to fade into the background.

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Personality


About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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