Research shows friendships play a vital role in kids’ learning, relationships and their feelings of belonging and security throughout their lives.
“Friends provide children with social and emotional support,” says Tracy Vaillancourt, a professor and Canada Research Chair for Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa.
“(Friendships) also help children develop important cognitive skills,” she says. “In fact, research shows that cognition is socially mediated and that children make notable positive cognitive strides when they interact with peers.”
What Do Kids Learn From Friendship?
“Children learn so much from their friends,” says Vaillancourt. “They learn about social norms, tolerance, and how to regulate their emotions. Diversity in goals, opinions, and behaviour requires negotiation skills which tend to be better developed in children who have friends than in children who are friendless.”
“Children who do not have friends tend to fall behind their peers socially (and at times cognitively),” she says. “When you are socially isolated you do not learn about the nuanced politics of the playground. This lack of social knowledge places children at risk for future peer rejection.”
What Are the Warning Signs That Your Child Isn’t Developing Friendships Normally?
“Across all ages, a good warning sign would be the amount of conflict you child has in his/her peer interactions,” she says. “Friendships are about negotiating interests and desires. If your child is rigid and has to have it his/her way without compromise, he/she will likely have peer relationship difficulties. But the opposite is also true. If your child is always acquiescing to his/her peers’ demands, he/she will not be benefiting from the friendship.”
How Can Parents Help Their Child Make/Keep Friends?
- Define Friendship:
Remind your children about what makes a good friend - taking turns, trust, mutual interests, acceptance, having fun, says Vaillancourt.
- Talk to the Teacher:
If your child is having a hard time making friends at school, Vaillancourt suggests you talk to the teacher to see what he/she can do to help forge friendships."Teachers are important architects of the social landscape of their classroom. They have the power to put kids together and keep them apart.
- Try A Club or Sport:
Enrolling your child in a club or sporting activity can help your child make friends. Vaillancourt suggests you discuss any social concerns with the group leader or coach so that he/she can keep an eye on things, and help in a similar way that a teacher can.
- Create Social Situations:
Organize play dates or social outings for your child. "The more exposure your child has to other children, the more likely he/she will make a friend," says Vaillancourt.
Gordon Neufeld, a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist and co-author of the book "Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers," says that friendships are important, but not as important as a child's relationship with his or her parents. Hear him explain why in the video below.