FRIENDSHIP that one relationship that you choose and nurture! And there is nothing like childhood friends, right? Friendships help children develop important social and emotional skills and help them accept people for who they are. It is a celebration of togetherness and a great way for children to love and respect others. 

Shabeena Parveen, currently the Principal at British Orchard Nursery ​​and a qualified CACHE level 5 Diploma in leadership​,​ health ​and ​social care and ​​children​ and​ young people’s service​ shares her expertise on Friendship. 

As all parents would agree, a childhood friend is truly a treasure, someone who cannot be forgotten or replaced and is in our hearts forever. So introducing children at a young age to the concept of friendship and helping them understand it better is vital. The cultural diversity in UAE is a great opportunity for young children to make friends while embracing everyone's individual identity. However, some children may have a lot of friends, and others may not need many friends to feel happy. 

Friendship is one of the very first things we learn about! Research by The Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that nine months old babies recognize that friends are likely to have similar interests. Infants are able to watch people around them interact and make inferences about whether those two people are likely to be friends. Even at a very young age, we know what it takes to be friends.

Children at a young age start making sense of the world around them. They spend an increasing proportion of their daily social interactions with their friends once they begin day care or schools. Early-childhood friendship is often underrated, considering the tremendous impact it has on our well-being and positive developmental influence. Research shows the importance of friendship, and its impact on mental and physical health including developing social and emotional skills, increasing a sense of belonging and decreasing stress. Having a great support system from the start can help us deal with hardships later in life. We don’t always realize how attached young children are to their friends, as parents one can help nurture friendships by encouraging them to get to know their friends better and facilitating opportunities for them to spend time with them.

Your child may not understand who friends are or the concept of friendship yet. But you can help them start learning and practicing skills like sharing and taking turns by spending time and playing together. If you have kids aged 0-2, use play to show you child how to play well with others and be a good friend. Try these ideas:

  • Prompt your child by saying ‘My turn’ and ‘Your turn’ while playing with them. Be it adding blocks to a tower or kicking a ball in the garden.
  • Use stuffed animals or dolls to ask for turns, share toys, and look after their toy friends. Your child will watch this fun game and try and learn from what they see!
  • Practice model sharing. For example, you give your child a some of your slime or a crayon and say, ‘Let’s share my slime or colours – some for you and some for me’. When your child has played with you like this for a while, you could ask your child to share some of their slime or colours.
  • While you are playing, sharing, and taking turns, be sure to mention how much fun it is when everyone gets a turn and is sharing.
  • Organize playdates and engage in activities where the children can play side by side and do not necessarily have to take turns. At this age, they are still learning to share, and every kid will be different.
  • If the child has a furry friend at home, encourage them to get to know each other and spend time together

You may think friendship is something that comes naturally, however children need to be taught how to nourish their relationships and be a good friend. If you are a parent to a child between 3-5 years, try these ideas: 

  •  One of the best ways for children to learn anything is by seeing their parents. When you child sees you interacting with your friends, they are paying attention. How you communicate with your friends and speak to one another speaks volume to your children.
  • Address and speak to your children about their friends and encourage them to know their friends better. Examples of simple ways to help them do that: Teach them their full names or find out about their native language.
  • Children respond to positive affirmations. When you see your child being a good friend, be sure to praise them. It is great to regularly bring to their notice on what qualities make for a good friend.
  • A lot of times the best examples for any situations are found in books! Read books about friendship with your child and remember to point out what makes the character a good friend.
  • Create ample of opportunities for your children to socialize with their friends. Learning to be a good friend takes practice, for example, children need to have chances to learn to share with friends and be kind to others. As they grow older they will start valuing time they spend with each other and will help nourish their relationship.
  • Educate your children about bullying. If they are now aware what exactly bullying is, they will not be able to identify if it is happening to them or anyone else around them. 

Having a great support system from the start can help us deal with hardships later in life. We don’t always realize how attached young children are to their friends, as parents one can help nurture friendships by encouraging them to get to know their friends better and facilitating opportunities for them to spend time with them. For children aged between 6-9 years, give the below mentioned suggestions a try:

  • Take time to observe and understand how your child socializes and then decide what skills need building and how you can contribute.
  • As they grow up, help them become good listeners. One  important quality of a good friend is the ability to listen well. Begin teaching your children how to be good listeners from the time they are young to instill this amazing skill and quality.
  • Encourage them to adapt to new social situations by greeting with a smile. Children really do learn by example, so be mindful of how you interact with others and in different situations.
  • To help your child build confidence and a group of friends with shared interests, encourage them to join community activities and initiatives. 
  • Talk openly and frequently to your children.If you want your children to share their experiences, you need to make them feel comfortable by bringing up the topic often, so they can share if they or someone else is being bullied around them
  • Friendship does not come without conflict and we must teach your children how to handle conflict respectfully. We need them to set boundaries, stand up for themselves and to admit and apologize when they are wrong. 
  • Be open to your child’s unique personality and how much social interaction they really need. Some introverted children make a few really good friends rather than many casual friendships. Be sure not to compare them to their friends or siblings.

Friendship brings good will, virtue and makes a child wise with practical reasoning! Parents, share with us your favourite childhood memories with your friends, we would love to hear from you!