The big, wide world can be a lot for your little one’s to take on but friends help make it a warmer (and friendlier!) place. So what’s the science behind a best friend and how does it contribute to a well-balanced child that can take on the world?
Fostering Friendship Can Promote A Sense of Belonging & Decrease Stress for Little Ones
Recent research shows the importance of friendship goes as deep as being a key factor in a child's mental and physical health. Preschool friendships are especially helpful in developing social and emotional skills that increase a child’s sense of belonging and can even decrease stress (yes, even your 4 year old can experience stress!). Helping your little one’s foster better connections and friendships makes for a much easier transition to school social life.
Before the age of 7, friendships are based on physical (same age or gender) or geographical considerations (like next-door neighbours or friends from kindy) and are rather self-centred. A friend is a playmate who lives nearby and has “cool” toys, and likes the same games. There is little or no understanding of the other person’s perspective or feelings, or personality traits other than the avoidance of a playmate because “they are mean.”
During the next stage of development (ages 7-9) the idea of reciprocity and awareness of the other child’s feelings begins. In this stage they begin perspective taking and develop the recognition of how another child might feel in regards to their actions. Based on current research it appears that perspective taking is more dominant in girls than boys at this stage and throughout subsequent stages of development.
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Though friendships follow a somewhat predictable developmental sequence, not all children progress at the same rate. Delays in this area are not necessarily a cause for concern, just like adults, some children need or enjoy more alone time than others do! What you can do is ensure you’re putting in place plenty of opportunities for play and conversations that encourage intimacy and building connection.
Modelling the importance of staying connected with your own friends helps your little ones understand how to develop and nurture friendships. Likewise, encouraging friendships that are important to your child are a great way to model prioritising connection. If there is a relationship that brings your child joy, support it! Scheduling time for them (just like how you would with a friend) teaches them to value quality time with the ones they love.
For the little ones who are shy and struggle to make friends and children who would just love more quality time with Mum, Dad or Nan & Pops, The Kiss Co books and toys are a great way to open up time & space to connect.
Share the love and give the gift of a kiss & a cuddle knowing you're creating time for friendship and connection.
Until next time,
Coie, J.D., Dodge, K.A. & Coppotelli, H. (1982). Dimensions and types of social status: A cross-age perspective. Developmental Psychology, 18(4), 557–570.