The Beatles were right- we can always get by with a little help from our friends.
Growing up, I was very introverted and timid. At the age of six, my parents enrolled me in ballet classes with the hopes of overcoming my shyness. It worked! I made great friends in that class who encouraged me and cheered me on, not only with dance, but in my personal life as well. I started getting invited to play dates and I overcame my stage fright while dancing in front of a crowd, all because I was with my friends.
I am lucky to have had many friendships throughout my life, and because of these special people I have experienced places I never knew existed. I have done things like catch a 300-pound marlin and traveled to foreign countries. I have taken jobs in different parts of the country where I knew no one, and I have developed new connections in these new environments! I credit this all to my personal cheerleaders, my friends- the connections that started when I was a young child.
So how do we help our own children develop these connections, and benefit from the vast advantages of friendship? First, let’s explore why childhood friendships are so important for development:
- Emotional Development. Friendship at a young age helps create a sense of belonging for the child outside of their home. Early friendships drastically contribute to a child’s happiness and provides them with the necessary ability to adapt to change and new environments.
- Empathy. A valued human trait, empathy has special importance in school and the workplace. Friendships allow children to experience different perspectives, leading them to explore different ways of life and types of feelings.
- Communication. Friendships developed at an early age help children become more accommodating to different viewpoints and provides them a valuable lesson on how to participate in cordial, productive conversations later in life.
- Confidence. Children with higher self-confidence are typically able to focus better on school. The lessons learned in friendship provides children with strategies to better handle stress and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
If 2020 taught us anything, it was that humans crave connection. Whether from family, friends, or a healthy work environment- interaction with others is a fundamental pillar to success in our lives. While this phenomenon certainly rings true for adults, it is especially crucial for teenagers and children.
Studies conducted by adolescent psychologists show that while some kids have been excited to return to their friends, teachers, and activities- others have struggled with a significant amount of anxiety when it comes to returning to their regular school setting.
So how do you help your children develop these connections to flourish in their daily lives? Here are some ways adults can assist their kids with developing healthy, beneficial friendships:
- You are your child’s biggest role model. This includes modeling what a healthy friendship looks like. By avoiding gossip and speaking-ill of your own friends, you inadvertently show your child what a positive connection can look like.
- Support your child’s friendships. You can support these growing connections by helping set up play dates, enrolling your kids in sports or activities, and making sure time is on the schedule for your children to enjoy their friendships. Who knows, maybe you’ll make a new friend in the process too!
- Be a mentor. Making friends can be scary, and we sometimes forget that as adults. Be there to support your child through any questions they have about friendship. By navigating this process of your child growing up, together, your child will feel comfortable coming to you for help with friendships as they grow older.
As a children’s book author, I am always happy to have the opportunity to help teach these vital lessons to young children through book-readings. My favorite part of each lesson is always the question-and-answer portion of the reading, where the children share their personal stories of how friends have helped them and how they have helped their friends. It always becomes clear that friends at each stage of our lives make our individual journeys so much more interesting and enjoyable. These friendships take us to places and adventures we never even knew existed.