As the great poet John Donne wrote in the 17th century:
"No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…"
No one can be alone in life. We need others to support us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Relationships, and in particular friendships, can sustain us throughout our lives. Even when romantic relationships end, we get laid off, or become ill, true friendships endure. When times get tough, we know we always have someone to turn to who can help us in a practical way or a supportive way, as we cry on their shoulder and then move on to deal with the issue that has arisen.
But good friendships are not a matter of accident or chance. They come from skills cultivated when we are younger, which can help us form life-time friendships even in our earliest years.
Like every other aspect of growing up, children need to learn friendship skills. They learn them from parents and from their peers.
In this guide, we will be looking at the nature of children’s friendships, how they form, and how we as parents can help ensure they are able to form lasting friendships and avoid negative relationships such as bullying.
So let’s get started with a look at the importance of friends.
SECTION 1: THE IMPORTANCE OF FRIENDS
From the moment they are able to listen and understand, young children start to learn about interpersonal dynamics within the family, and with children their own age - their peers. It is an important aspect of growing up because it helps them understand interdependence and yet enables them to become independent.
If they have one or more siblings in the household, this can help teach them about relationships with people their own age as compared with adults. Children get a lot of educational benefit from their parents, but the interactivity with other children at home and in social settings such as play school, play days and more, helps them gain a range of skills that will put them in good stead in their adult life.
For example, children learn communication skills - being able to say what they want and how they feel. They ask questions, invite other people to play, and organize the activity into some sort of sequences of events.
In the process of dealing with other children, they learn about emotions - their own and those of others. They feel valued because they have friends, and learn how to try to preserve the friendship. They learn to control their temper tantrums and deal with frustrations in a positive way, so as not to argue with others or take their emotions out on them and drive them away.
Through this valuing of the friendship, they learn more complicated skills - such as avoiding aggressive behaviors like hitting or biting, and being able to compromise or come up with other ideas that might work.
They also learn how to co-operate with each other, and hopefully be honest. When game playing, for example, they learn how to take turns, play the game according to the rules, and not cheat. They also learn how not to be a sore loser.
Through friendships, they also learn that not everyone is the same and that people have different thoughts and feelings they need to be aware of and sensitive to. They gradually learn how to see things from others’ points of view and adapt their communication and play style to different people.
They also learn new skills from their friends - things they might not have been able to do until they saw them and decided to imitate them. This can be a bad thing sometimes, of course, if kids "egg each other on" or teach each other inappropriate vocabulary; but again, this is where strong parental guidance can help.
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