By the time your child is in preschool, you have already shown her what love and security are all about. You’ve demonstrated basic social skills, such as playing and compromise. And you have given her guidance for exploration, with encouragement and limits.
Through the school years, friends are essential to your child’s development. The fundamental skills of life and human interaction are learned during these years. Don’t worry; you’re still the most important person in your child’s life, but everything you can possibly teach is limited by what you know, how you were taught and your own life experiences.
Friends are our guides to the world beyond our parents. Friends show us places we’ve never been and places we didn’t know existed.
Our friends share experiences away from our parents. When we first go to school we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, among strangers. Most kids find companionship with their classmates because nearly everybody is dealing with the same issues. Children look for others who seem to like what they like; maybe it’s what’s on their sneakers or the kind of things they build with blocks. A new person in a child's life does more than keep her from feeling lonely and isolated.
As children grow, these friends become more important, and those unexplored paths become more important too. Admittedly, this can become worrisome for some parents. As children progress toward the middle-school years, some parents may feel that a child is pulling away. This isn’t usually just a feeling; it’s a normal reality of growing up. Parents should teach their children the skills needed to make independent choices. Children, and adults, have friends for several different purposes. There may be different sets of friends from soccer, school and church. There are neighborhood friends and friends from summer camp. Each friend fills a different role in a child’s development.
Some children have difficulty making or keeping friends. Try to avoid feeling hurt, even if your child is. If this happens again and again, you need to become a detective. Talk to other parents, ask them what the issues were and don’t take it personally. Think of yourself as a coach. Help your child see the social cues he missed by watching groups of kids on a playground. Ask him to watch a group and try to guess what they are saying to each other by looking at their expressions and gestures. Ask him to look at other children and say what he thinks they are doing or what they might like to do with him. As a coach, you need to be encouraging. But just praising your star player won’t help him overcome his struggles. So, armed with your detective work, tell him extremely specific actions he should do (“say hello and say what your name is”) or should not do (“don’t put your hands in your pockets”). Then have him practice with you. Think of it like teaching him to swim.
Friendships are so important for every child’s development and parents need to help their children foster friendships. Sometimes this means being a taxi service or letting the kids stay up late. Keep in mind that the friend is providing important learning experiences you simply can’t.