Friendship is a concept that is familiar to most. While the dictionary defines friendship as ‘a state of mutual trust and support between allied nations’, the beloved character Winnie the Pooh sums up friendship in a beautiful way, ‘If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.’ The ability to build and maintain strong relationships is a critical life skill; humanity depends on true friendships.
Humans usually gravitate to those who are similar to themselves, in background, appearance, personality, or who share interests. For most, the first opportunity to build relationships with peers is at school. As a time where a child’s world gets bigger, friendships, which are a positive force on development, become more important.
The importance of friendship and its power to positively impact health, wellbeing and development is recognised globally. On the 30th July 2019, World Friendship Day or International Day of Friendship Day, as some know it, will be celebrated amongst many communities. The day was declared an official celebration by the General Assembly of United Nations in 2011 and aims to bring those of different backgrounds together.
School-age friendships are especially important as they develop important life skills, such as communication, independence, empathy and conflict resolution. Fostering strong relationships with peers is also critical for emotional wellbeing, especially in an age where bullying is showing no signs of slowing down.
Anne Davies, Owner and Director of children’s bedroom specialists, Room to Grow, shares her top tips for parents to encourage their children to build and maintain quality friendships:
1. Lead by example and stay connected with your friends…
Children look up to their parents, the first role models they are exposed to. As such, it is important to maintain important friendships as a parent. Through moving house to changing jobs, remain in contact with close friends. This will set a good example to your children who will learn how to nurture their own friendship, by watching your dedication to your friends.
2. …And model good friendship skills
Friendship is about give and take, supporting friends through the bad times as well as sharing the good times together. However, this should be in balance; while everyone has selfish impulses, for children to maintain friends, they need to know how to keep these responses under control. It’s also important that children can identify their feelings and feel comfortable expressing them with their friends. If they struggle doing so, help them to develop this skill by sharing your own feelings, or questioning them to dig deeper and label how they’re feeling at a particular moment in time.
3. Keep one eye on your child’s social life
This isn’t about hovering over your child as they play with friends or interfering where your input isn’t wanted. Moreno, supervising where your children are playing and who they are making friends with, to minimise the chance of rubbing shoulders with bad influences. Studies have shown primary aged children who had more aggressive peers were more likely to develop behavioural problems themselves.
4. Have an awareness of cultural differences
Cultural norms can differ when it comes to friendships. What one culture may define as selfish or helpful, might be seen as the norm by another culture. It’s important to be aware of this, as children may not understand why other’s behaviour is different to their own.
5. Encourage meet ups over the summer holidays
Strong friendships are important for health and wellbeing and it’s helpful for parents to encourage the maintenance of friendships, as well as helping them on their way to making the initial connections; The summer holidays provide a fantastic opportunity for children and their best friends to spend quality time together. This doesn’t have to be costly or have parents driving up and down the country, instead consider inviting your child’s friends over to play in the garden, join you on a trip to visit one of the thousands of attractions around the UK or to explore the local countryside.
Anne Davies, is the Owner and Director of children’s bedroom specialists, Room to Grow,