Friendship in Children - Why Parenting Matters
Childhood friendships are developed in stages, beginning with parallel play in toddlerhood. During this stage, playmates are viewed simply as others who are there to play with the same group of toys. As children develop, their perspective shifts from "me" to "them" as they begin to see another person's point of view.
Between the ages of three and seven, friendships exist for today. A friend is someone with whom your child is playing at that particular moment or with whom she plays frequently. If you ask a child of this age to describe her friend, the description is usually in terms of appearance or the type or number of toys she owns. At this stage, there is really no idea that a friendship means a relationship. "Best" friends might change from day to day, and many children play better with two or three children than with a large group.
The understanding of friendship as a relationship begins to emerge between the ages of four and nine. A friend may now be defined as someone who does things that please them. There is still no understanding of the reciprocal nature of friendship until the ages of 6 to 12. At these ages, children will finally have a basic understanding of the give-and-take nature of friendships.
There is no magic number of friends a child should have. Some children go through life with one or two close friends; others have so many friends, they can't keep track. Depending on your child's personality, she may have many or few friends. Do not be concerned unless you start to see consistent difficulties with making or keeping friends.
What do you do about the child who is unpopular or doesn't seem to have any friends? Most children have already learned that relationships are pleasurable. This is something that takes place early in infancy, when they develop a secure relationship with their parent or caregiver. For some children, however, this was not learned. Children who were difficult infants, colicky and irritable, may not have experienced that sense of pleasure and security. It is important to encourage this child to develop a special relationship with at least one friend. Sometimes this means scheduling and arranging activities that are pleasurable for your child. If, as you observe your child interacting with others, you notice behaviors that may alienate her from friends, gently point them out to her. Sometimes just having the knowledge that she is doing something others don't like and the benefits of some constructive criticism on how to change those behaviors are enough. When your child begins school and you meet new parents, arranging times when all of you are together may be a helpful stepping stone to a new friendship. For children who are having difficulty establishing a friendship, knowing that Mom and Dad are supportive can be the best security they need.
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