“Old friends, new friends, this is what we do, friends – sing and dance with you.”
This time of year, when we say good-bye to friends for summer or look forward to going new classrooms, we have the chance to reflect on our shared view of children’s friendships. What adult perspectives and understandings promote the most happiness for children?
A recent news report revealed that Britain’s Prince George and Princess Charlotte attend a school that emphasizes kindness and discourages the practice of children pairing as best friends. The reasoning for this is to teach children to be aware that others can feel excluded.
However, exclusion isn’t the only challenge with tightly focused relationships. We want children to have loving reciprocal relationships, but it’s also important to pay attention to the effects the daily ups and downs of close relationships have on them.
“Best friend” relationships sometimes tax children, especially younger ones, with the need to continually navigate the other person’s wishes and moods and the feelings of restrictiveness that can emerge. Singular relationships can create feelings of dependency and despondency when the other person isn’t available.
Friendships can bring joy, a buffer from stress, and the development of social and language skills. It’s helpful for children to share their thoughts and feelings and to develop empathy by learning about the other person’s perspectives. However, research shows that children who have a wider network of friends are better able to gain support from many places than adolescents.
We don’t want to dismiss children’s feelings about leaving a friend to go to a new class or about missing a friend on a given day or lecture them on having more friends. We can help them by not getting anxious when they complain that they had no one to play with that day and simply validate their feelings. “It’s hard when you don’t know who to play with. What did you do?”
If we look on those situations as opportunities to build resilience, children are more apt to build confidence. We can also encourage their awareness that they can help others feel included, especially new children.
As the song says, “This is what we do, friends” – sing and dance and find joy with the friends we are with and move on to new experiences and welcome new people into our orbit.