Most of us remember our childhood friends fondly with memories of places we used to explore, fun experiences we had, and maybe even some arguments here and there. While these memories are nostalgic, they actually played a part in making us the people we are today. As your children grow and start relationships with other kids, watch how these interactions and friendships play a huge role in their development. So, why are childhood friendships important?

Learning Social Skills

Two young friends walking together.

Image via Flickr by tomvdh1

At the very early stages of a child’s life, interacting with other children can teach them loads of social skills. Little ones will even babble with one another before they can fully communicate. All of these seemingly insignificant moments put together offer many opportunities for your kids to learn how to properly interact with others. 

On a basic level, the social skills developed by early childhood friendships include:

  • Language and speech development.
  • Sharing.
  • Self-awareness.
  • Listening.
  • Empathy.

Your kids will learn a lot about language from you and other caregivers while reading books, doing flashcards, and practicing sounds. But having an actual conversation with another child on their language level teaches them other aspects of communication, like using tone of voice and responding to a question or prompt. They also learn to listen while someone else talks. Kids learn this to a point when following parents’ instructions, but listening to a friend tell a story or even communicate a need is another level of communication development. 

Sharing and self-awareness are also important social skills that children have to learn to make friends. Toddlers will learn quickly that their friend gets upset when they don’t share toys, and they’ll learn to connect their friend’s response to their own feelings when someone doesn’t share with them. This means that they aren’t just learning the importance of sharing but also what feelings are, where they come from, and how to consider others’ feelings before saying or doing something. 

Developing Empathy

Empathy is a major building block for successful friendships. If we can’t understand another person’s point-of-view, even if we’ve never experienced exactly what they are going through, it’s difficult to connect on a deep level. Developing empathy starts as early as sharing as a toddler, and it will continue to grow as kids see their friends experience different emotions

At a birthday party, your child might see their friend open a really exciting present. Encourage them to feel happy for their friend because their friend is happy rather than think about how they might want that same gift. 

In other instances, if your child witnesses their friend get hurt, they will likely show concern. Help them navigate that situation by talking to them about how they can feel sad for their friend when they’re in pain and how they might be able to help physically with a bandage or ice and emotionally with a hug.

Coping With Change

When your child has a friend, they have someone to help them cope with change in a healthy way. Whether they are getting a new sibling, changing to a new school, or even moving to a new home, when your kid has a friend to talk to who’s remaining a stable part of their life, they can learn to cope better with changes. 

As children deal with difficult situations and see the benefits of confiding in a friend, they can learn the importance of expressing sadness or disappointment through talking it out rather than bottling it up or lashing out in anger. Your child can also learn to remember how they felt in a particularly hard situation and then apply that to their development of empathy when their friends face similar struggles.

Helping Your Child Learn To Be a Friend

Young children learn from the adults in their lives primarily through imitation. They copy much of what they see and realize very early on that the adults know how to do things, so who better to imitate? Keep this in mind as you interact with people in front of your kids. They are watching how you speak to friends, what you say about them, and how you relate to them. You can even explain to your child who your close friends are. 

If you have friends you’ve known since you were little, take the time to tell your kids about these friendships and how important they are to you. Tell them stories of things you and your friends used to do, and talk about ways that you’ve supported one another over the years. Seeing the benefits of close, long-lasting friendships in their parents’ lives can show kids the potential in their own relationships. It might even encourage them to work hard at nourishing and supporting the friendships they have.

Prioritizing Time With Friends

Another way to support your child as they develop friendships over time is by encouraging and coordinating play dates. Work with other parents to get your kids together for time at the playground or even for a movie and board games day when the weather is bad. This might require parents to step out of their comfort zone a bit if they need to meet new parents of other kids, but maybe you could even end up with a new friendship. 

If you move away or your child changes schools, encourage them to stay in touch with the friends they are moving away from. This can also be a great opportunity to teach them about writing and mailing letters. If they’ve simply changed schools but still live nearby, try to make regular plans to visit those friends so relationships are prioritized, even if they aren’t always convenient. Learning to make relationships a priority and work at maintaining them is a majorly beneficial life skill that your child will be thankful for later in life. 

At Crème de la Crème, we encourage children to befriend one another and build strong relationships. Our staff works with the children in our care to help them develop social skills, emotional maturity, and behavioral awareness. The PATHS program actually focuses on character education for kids and promotes processing and expressing feelings in productive ways. Contact us to learn more about how this program can set your child up for success.