Friendship is often taken for granted as an aspect of life which ‘just happens’. Think of your first, real friendship. You can probably remember the feeling and emotion that hit if that friendship broke down. The subsequent feeling when it got back on track is also something which sticks. Though often just seen as a given, friendship is a vital part of growing up, and aids in childhood development. That’s why we should be nurturing childhood friendships.
Here at Hand Made Places we want to celebrate the benefits which come from ‘making and breaking friends’ for younger children.
Friendship in younger children
Children who are younger than seven often make friends simply based on physical attributes.
This being either their age, gender or geographical location. However, from this young age children will begin to develop a basic understanding of emotions. As such, they’ll begin to choose their ‘playmates’ based on whether they like them; if they’re nice or mean!
As children then progress into the later years of primary school they will develop both socially and emotionally. This is where ‘real’ friendships should begin to form. This means that children will pick their friends now based on social factors rather than physical factors; they’ll look for a friend based on shared likes and dislikes, as well as other factors such as similar ability.
As children of this age develop emotionally, they will gather an understanding of how someone makes them feel. It’s about a specific person making you feel happy or sad, as opposed to the ‘social status’ of having playmates. They will also progress further into conflict resolution; they will now be less likely to ‘stop being friends’ over a simple disagreement.
The developmental side of nurturing childhood friendships
The skills that come from making and breaking friendships are paramount to child development.
In younger children, we often see squabbling over toys and children talking over one another; this is generally viewed to be a result of attempts to assert dominance as they grow.
However, after years of making friends, we see that children progress in their conversational skills. Children will learn to develop their turn-taking skills, and learn to respect other people’s viewpoints.
They will also learn social skills, which can be transferred into adult life. For example, beginning to alter their behaviour based on who they’re with. Children will begin to learn the difference in their language and actions when they’re with an adult versus when they’re with a peer.
As well as helping to aid in development of key skills, making friendships as a child can help to promote behavioural stability.
It is suggested that 50% of students who experience behavioural problems actually had difficulty making friends as a young child.
Having under-developed social skills can impact on a child’s behaviour as they can begin to feel uncomfortable when interacting with both their peers and their elders. Thus resulting in difficulty engaging in social situations.
Not only does the simple act of making friends alter ones behaviour; their choice of friend can also help to shape them as a person.
Children will often pick up attributes from other children, which will help to form their personality. It can be said that the person you are in adulthood is formed by the past friendships, and how you interacted with those other people. It is also said that children who choose to be friends with same and different genders develop their social skills at a quicker rate than those who simply stick to their ‘own’. This is due to the gendered differences in conversation and development we see at this young age; it comes as a result of the ways we talk to boys versus girls.
How can Hand Made Places help to nurture friendships?
At Hand Made Places we have a range of specially designed products which promote social interaction amongst children. This includes play apparatus such as the Finger Mazes which encourage turn-taking, sharing and cooperation.
It puts the focus on skills which need to be enhanced in order to nurture healthy friendships. Turn-taking results in the formation of genuine, emotional bonds.
In addition to activity panels and totems, we also have playground furniture which is tailored towards friendship. For example the Friendship Bench, or Share Chair. We specifically designed these units to nurture healthy childhood friendships through communication.
The Friendship Bench is intended to create a whole area which promotes conversation. It’s a way of introducing children who might not normally interact with one another. This will then enable them to broaden their friendship group, improve their social circle and in time, their social skills.
The Share Chair helps to build friendships in a different way; the seats are specially designed to face in opposite directions. This means it remains a place for two friends to sit and talk things through, but also helps to nurture friendship amongst children who find eye contact difficult.
International Friendship Day is a great place to start when trying to encourage friendships amongst children.
You can use today to hold events, tasks and even specially designed play sessions which will help to encourage children to build and develop friendships.
Though it is important that children do make friends, it is equally important that they are not forced into friendship groups.
It’s time to start guiding children through the development of specific skills, helping them to develop more fruitful friendships all by themselves.