The Social Development of Young Children – This is Serious Stuff

  How much do your friends mean to you? What would your life be like if you had no friends? Friends to rely on in times of crisis, and friends to share all your joys? I imagine life would be pretty dull and lonely…Friends are important…

  As hard as this might be for a parent to hear, a child’s time spent at school with their friends is often the most important part of their day. Therefore the burgeoning social life of a young child can be perplexing to parents; particularly in times of crisis when a parents instinct is to try and navigate those challenges, heartbreaks and joys on behalf of their child.  Social skills are often a trial and error learning process impacted by cognitive maturation, experience, and the type of personality your child is developing.  Parents can find it emotionally challenging for themselves when they realize their child is slowly moving from valuing his/her life with you, to his/her life with friends.  That said, these are young people growing into their independence and jealousies, breakups, bullying and teasing can prove to be very difficult for them while often comprising much of the interaction between teachers and parents on behalf of the child. 
 

  Many educators and psychologists agree that developing and maintaining friendships is one of the most important things your child can learn. It is as important as academics, if not more. Friendships and relationships are the basis of any community and critical to gaining a sense of belonging in their world. There can be many wonderful moments in your child’s day at school, but schools are not always wonderful places to be. What I mean is, this is when children are discovering and experimenting with social power which often leads to aggressiveness and bullying. Bullying often takes place out in the open, where almost anyone can see. As parents, we can become perplexed, worried, anxious and/or concerned when we sense our child is experiencing difficulties navigating the social waters of peer relationships. Parents often experience the pain of their children’s social lives. There is no escaping it. As a parent you are filled with pride by your child’s successes and are filled with anguish by their failures. Being a parent means feeling helpless a lot. Helpless to change a personality trait, helpless to make him the soccer player he will never be, and the list goes on.

Friendships

  You may be wondering, how you can help your child cope with the jealousies, fights, disagreements, bullying, and breakups of friendships. I will get to that…

  I want to offer some insights on how friendships develop and how you can help, only when needed.

  A successful relationship with peers starts at home. When we help our children develop a solid sense of self we help them with their normal insecurities. We cannot help comparing the feelings of social anxiety we had at school with that of our own child’s experiences. And it’s even harder to separate ourselves if we had a tough time, because we don’t want our children to experience the same pain. Whether you were the popular kid, or the average kid, or you were ostracized growing up. Your child’s social life is not likely to be the same as yours. Although I do think it helps us to have empathy for the experience they are having and understanding the social dilemma from their point of view. Remember we’ve all been there, the feelings are universal despite the decade they occur in. If I can leave you with one thing it’s that we cannot transfer our social experiences growing up onto our children.

Let’s Start at the Beginning

 Friendships started when your baby crawled over your lap to meet anther baby. From birth to 11 months, babies begin to understand the concept of interaction. The idea that, “you do this, I do that, I do that, you do this.” It is then that babies start to reach for one another and start copying what they see others doing. Around age 3 children begin to play with each other, like being together and learning to take turns. By age 7, friends take up a lot of your child’s interest and energy. You have officially diminished in top status as someone they want to spend time with. The reality of this can be a rude awakening to many, and maybe a relief to some…but with this reality, we are no longer the center of their universe and it will be difficult to let go of the time we would spend with our child and allow them to figure things out for themselves. But even though they are separating and individuating themselves, as parents deep down we know they still need us just as much. The need for us never ends either. At my age I still need my family and always will. I will never forget when my twin boys, now 10, went to their first day of preschool, I was panicked whether they should start or not and unsure if they were ready…I called a child psychologist to process my worries, fears and anxieties. In truth it was me that wasn’t ready for their next developmental step. I had to stay for half the day for the next week to make sure everything was okay and I’d be there if they needed me. They were fine of course.
Then came the worries and the social anxiety. Were they were making friends? Were they likable?…they were. Then came the phenomenon of keeping up with the “Jones’” – were my children having enough play dates, should I enroll them at Kumon like many of their friends, what about soccer, tennis and karate, and piano or should they be learning the Suzuki method…I witnessed parents seeking out other parents kids because they thought their children should get to know that specific kid… because the parent wanted the friendship, not necessarily the kids, they were picking their friends out for them! Every school has a parental social hierarchy as well. It can become overwhelming and complicated to say the least.

The Choice of Friends

   Kids can choose their friends, this is precious to them. While they cannot choose their chores, what’s for dinner, when to do their homework and bedtime – they can choose who to be friends with.

  Children Maintain a Limited Number of Friends


  Kids will generally have from 1 to 10 “important” friends at a time, with the average being around 5. Not all these friendships will last, even if the parents are best friends.

My next installment on the social development of children will address 1st and 2nd grades, as well as bullying. 

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