Developing Friendships

Growing YearsSchool would be a lonely place without friends and every child needs to cultivate friendships. Self-esteem is an important factor in establishing friendships. Children also gravitate toward peers who are self-sufficient (independent).

Young children do not establish friendships, and until the age of three, play parallel to other children. At three, cooperatively play begins to emerge, along with a preference for playing with peers instead of adults. It is interesting to watch them observe play schemes of other children before joining in. For this to occur, at this age, children must share common receptive language skills, motor skills and problem solving skills. By the age of five, a common interest in types of play schemes, and expressive language skills, are necessary to playing, which drive friendships. At eight years (third grade), children emerge into a new age of childhood which is characteristic of children viewing themselves independent of the mother. Individual personalities are now added components to friendship selections. Differences are not understood yet by this group, as it takes great maturity to understand people who are different from us, and this age group is not yet capable of this skill. Friendships are harder to make, but are deeper and longer lasting. Knowing this, there are things you can teach your child to help get him/her friendship ready!

Teach personal independence. Encourage language expansion by language experiences. Talk to your child about a variety of subjects (this should start early). Don’t always “give” answers, but sometimes help your child “find” answers instead. Teach problem solving skills. Encourage your child to play with different toys. Let the favorite toy “take a nap,” so your child can play with other toys. Buy a variety of toys (not every doll, truck, or ball, on the shelves, for Christmas, etc.). Developing several interests broadens the number of play groups to choose from on the playground.

Help your child develop a variety of interests. Within the sports arena alone, there are many choices, not just football, basketball, baseball, and cheerleader. How about soccer, swimming, softball, volleyball, tennis, golf, archery, horseshoes, racquetball, badminton, croquet, twirling, skating, skiing, gymnastics, track events, wrestling, karate… and the list goes on and on. Every child should have the experience of creating music (not necessarily formal lessons, there are many less time consuming and expensive options). Play a variety of board games with your child (also great for problem solving). Experience the arts with your child. Create art from found objects (also problem solving). Explore books of art from ancient times to present day. Children find these intriguing. Explore science through everyday activities, and through little day trips (Natural History Museum in Gray, TN; Oak Ridge Science Museum, Knoxville Zoo, Briarwood Ranch Auto Safari in Cock Co., TN; Cherokee Dam, Douglas Dam, among other sites close by). Talk about different cultures and how they are different from your family. Have a Spanish, Russian, Indian, etc. night with family and friends. By doing some of these things with your child, friendship choices increase in possibilities. It gives your child great versatility.

Teach your child the golden rule. Always treat a friend as you want to be treated. Don’t do or say anything that you would not want said or done to you. Teach your child to think before speaking, especially if angry or frustrated. Teach them to stop and ask themselves, “if your friend said it to you, would it upset you?” If the answer is “yes,” don’t say it! Instead, express to your friend, in a calm manner, why you are upset with them. Teach your child to listen to the “little voice” inside, and stop and really think about their action (model this behavior for your child). Teach the same with actions, “would you want your friend to do this to you?”