Ahh, the memories of childhood and friends. Social interaction begins at a very young age, and even as newborns, your baby is watching and observing how people interact with one another and learning from them. As toddlers and preschoolers they soak up everything they see and what they witness goes right into school age and then into adulthood. As parents, we set the stage for them.
I was recently approached by an amazing website, called Childs Work (www.childswork.com) that specializes in counseling children by providing great articles on counseling topics and they also sell therapeutic products. They offered to guest post on my blog about friendships and I gladly welcomed the opportunity. So, today, we have a guest post from Dr. Lawrence Shapiro, founder of Childswork.com!
The Secrets of Making a Really Good Friend
By Lawrence E. Shapiro, Ph.D.
Between the ages of 7 and 12 most children identify one or more of their peers as a “best friend.” Children may talk about having best friends as early as three or four, but they really don’t have the emotional capacity for making and keeping friends until around the first or second grade. By this age, most children have an inner need to seek out and explore a relationship with another child, usually of the same sex. Developmental psychologists believe that during the elementary school years, children are hard wired to learn the skills inherent in all intimate relationships, including empathy, the ability to listen and make one’s self understood, the ability to resolve conflicts, and much more. Having a best friend gives children an opportunity to learn and practice these lifelong skills.
Having a best friend is different for different children. Some children are almost inseparable from a best friend during the elementary years, and think of their friend more like a brother or sister. For other children a “best friend” is more of a concept. A child might not actually spend too much time with a particular friend, and yet he may feel that he is close to that other child.
While friendships are complicated with lots of ups and downs, ultimately we judge the quality of a child’s friendships on two dimensions: the amount of time children spend with a friend, and the degree of reciprocity between the two children. Good friends typically have contact almost every day, by phone, text, a social media site, and of course in school. They usually spend three or more hours together a week, in a play date or other activity (such as sports, theater, or hobby), and at least some of this time is unstructured. There is no hard and fast rule about how much time friends spend together, and certainly there may be a week or two when friends don’t spend time together outside of school. But when this happens, there is sense of absence, between childhood friends, much like in a close adult relationship.
Reciprocity between friends means that each child is invested in the friendship, although not necessarily to the same degree. In a close friendship you would expect both children to contact each other to keep up on daily events, to invite the other over for play dates and activities, and to remember important days like birthdays or holidays with cards or gifts.
While most children have at least one good friend between the ages of 7 and 12, as many as 10 to 15 percent of children find it very hard to create an active social life. Children on the Autism Spectrum, children with ADHD, and children with various anxiety disorders, may all have a hard time forming friendships, but for very different reasons. Most psychologists believe that friendship-making skills can be taught, although the teaching methods will vary depending on the child’s emotional and behavioral repertoire. But teaching children social skills is well worth the effort. Besides the obvious joy of sharing childhood experiences with a friend, social isolation in childhood and adolescence is a serious risk factor for many problems, including school drop out, depression, and a variety of behavioral problems.
Lawrence E. Shapiro, Ph.D. is the President of Childswork/Childsplay, a leading publisher of child therapy materials to meet the social and emotional needs of children. He is also the creator of SocialSkillsCentrall.com, a website that teaches children social skills and the author of many books on raising the emotional and social intelligence of children.
Lawrence Shapiro: Lawrence Shapiro, Ph.D. has written many books for parents and children in the area of emotional intelligence, including The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids (New Harbinger Publications, 2009). His work has been translated into over 25 languages.