During early childhood, friendships can help form valuable character traits, build communicative, cognitive and social development and also help a child learn and practice essential life skills. Childhood friendships create a sense of belonging and security in early development. This can dramatically decrease stress levels in children, which can more easily lead to a happy and healthy future.
The main ingredients in forming friendships are similarity and opportunity. Children become good friends when they spend a lot of time playing together, sharing toys, and enjoying the same games and activities. Children who are more involved in physical activities and team sports are more likely to work better in larger groups rather than children who do not. Teamwork and good sportsmanship prove to be very important for youth to grow up with healthy cooperative skills in business and ambitiousness in their careers. Children who do not play team sports tend to be more introverted and work better within smaller work environments.
According to Dr. Paul Schwartz, an expert in child psychology “Friendships for children provide numerous important functions including companionship, stimulation, physical support, ego-support, social comparison and intimacy, and affection. Each of these functions has a different degree of importance at different times during development. Many theorists view the development of friendships similarly to other areas of human development, as going through predictable progressive stages.”
Beginning in the toddler stage, friendship can help children feel good about themselves, help the child build self confidence and help the child adapt more easily to early childhood environments. Over time, the child will become familiar with personality traits and become aware of the other person’s perspective. The child will start to understand reciprocity and develop an awareness of the other child’s feelings.
As adolescents become more independent of their families, they depend increasingly upon friendships to provide emotional support. Friendships now become testing grounds for new values and behaviors. The child then uses the status of friends to become more reflective of their self esteem. Friends have a powerful influence on a child’s school performance, both positive and negative. The can help to encourage proactive social skills, discourage, or deviate behaviors such as delinquency and drug use. Children with ‘good friends’ tend to have high self esteem, they are able to cope with stresses, and are less victimized by peers.
‘As parents, it is important to keep in mind that although friendships follow a somewhat predictable developmental sequence, as in other areas of physical, cognitive, or social-emotional development, not all children progress at the same rate and delays are not necessarily a need for concern. Additionally, parents who interpret their children’s desire for solitary play as loneliness and attempt to “push” friends on them, may be making an incorrect assumption. As important as friendships are, like their adult counterparts, children may greatly enjoy and choose solitary activities. It’s important to distinguish between being lonely and the desire to be alone, even in childhood. Like adults, children need “alone space” to grow and develop and, in their own way, reflect on the day’s activities.’ – Dr. Paul Schwartz