Children and the benefits of friendship.

We all remember our first childhood friend. The one we woke up excited to see inside the school gates. Play dates filled with adventure, confidences and laughter. Even now, as adults, our friends remain a hugely important part of our lives, from sharing problems, asking for advice, uncontrollable laughter and good times, sharing our life events and proudest moments, our friends help each of us define who we are.

For children, making friends is a vital part of growing up and an essential part of their social and emotional development. Attributes such as social competence, altruism, self-esteem and self-confidence have all been found to be positively correlated to having friends. Studies have found that friendships enable children to learn more about themselves and develop their own identity. And, as children mature, friends are able to help reduce stress and navigate challenging developmental experiences, especially during teenage years.

But it is not only the social and emotional benefits; friends can positively influence children’s health. Studies have shown that children who played frequently with active friends were far less likely to mention barriers for not exercising, such as low self-esteem, feeling self-conscious or lack of enjoyment.

However, it is not always easy for children to know how to manage friendships and learning how to keep and make new friends involves a number of skills young children need to learn and develop. For some children these skills come very naturally, easily moving to and from friendship groups, sharing their experiences and opening up to new people.

For others the world of friendships can be much harder to navigate.

It is beneficial for children to manage and build their own relationships, even though as parents and carers we may want to take responsibility or interfere. But there are ways we can help our children navigate friendships, become more confident and help to build and develop their social skills.

  • Help your child to develop positive social skills from an early age. Help them to understand the importance of sharing, taking someone else’s feelings into account and listening to each other. These can be supported through organising plenty of opportunities for your child to meet lots of different people
  • Demonstrate to your child how friendships work by letting them see how you behave with your friends
  • Help your child find other children with similar interests, such as through a swimming club, dance class, footy team or theatre group – children choose friends based on similar and shared hobbies
  • For older children who may be feeling shy or anxious offer them some ice breakers to start conversations with others and role play what they may say to someone  
  • Help them to find new areas of interest or help to boost their confidence in everyday situations.

Childhood friendships are full of ups and downs. Sometimes you might be faced with your child falling out with their friend. Arguments are a natural part of friendships, however sometimes it can be hard for children and young people to manage and understand them. Sometimes these conflicts many seem small and trivial to us, but can knock a child’s confidence and they blame themselves.

If your child has fallen out with a friend take some time to have a conversation with them about how they feel and how their friend might be feeling. Share some advice and help them to understand that there are always ups and downs in friendships. Offer some next steps and follow up when they get back from school.

At Life Education we help children develop communication skills, self-esteem, the importance of friendships and support networks and how to manage conflict within friendships.

Find out more about what we do in schools and how your child’s school could benefit from the Life Education program.