Friendships are a part of a child’s healthy psychological development, particularly their emotional and social development.
It’s through their friendships that they learn give and take, social standing, power, leadership, fairness, how to deal with rejection and aggression, differences and similarities between people.
A child will observe how his parents engage with each other. This is very important to a child’s own relationships, and siblings also play a significant role. Children who are close in age will learn about conflict resolution, trust, and companionship through early play and those who are further apart can learn about respect and individuality.
Play is enormously important to children. Toddlers engage in “parallel play”, where they play alongside, rather than with each other. ??Preschoolers start identifying certain individuals as friends and interact differently with these children than with those they consider “non-friends”. “Liking” and being “nice” are important codes at this age, and the friendship of the moment might depend upon whether they like the dress that a particular child is wearing.
Power-play will start to show itself. You will hear a child say, ‘I’m not going to invite you to my party’ to someone they were best friends with half an hour before. But the common thread is still play, which is how they learn about differences, kindness, new experiences and much more.?? A young child might play with whoever is around, or who lives down the road, but as kids get older common ground and affirmation become important.
Once children go to primary school, the waters of friendship become more complicated. On the positive side, primary school is a time when children form complex relationships as they become less bound to their family for companionship and are better able to communicate with each other, bouncing their experiences off each other in a way that affirms where they are.
From 7 to 9 they tend to have friends of the same sex, with the emphasis on sharing the experience of school. They choose friends who are similar to them and groups become important. ??The complex social dynamic that groups of children unleash can place difficulties in a child’s path – especially the power-playing that defines any group of children as well as harmful practices like bullying. Girls in particular can be quite cruel at the age of about 8, while boys can move around in packs that are hard for outsiders to penetrate.
It takes a lot of courage for children to negotiate their way through this stage of their lives. ??Children will start becoming more selective about their friends and, from the age of about 9 or 10, will probably have a firm “best friend”. Peer pressure enters the picture as groups become important, providing opportunities for a sense of belonging and acceptance but, equally, giving rise to exclusion on the basis of aspects like popularity, coolness, and more.
As the pre-adolescent begins to detach from the parent and strive for acceptance amongst friends, the influence of their peers may compete with the parents’ own values. Cliques, with their own internal hierarchies, abound. Your child’s sense of self will enable him to chart a course through these muddy waters.