When we reminisce about the friendships we’ve built in our childhood, our memories are often about playing games like tag, hide and seek, or hopscotch. However, these healthy friendships formed during our early years are much more than just fun times. They’ve played a role in helping us develop important skills that continue to benefit us throughout adulthood. In this article, we will discuss the significance of childhood friendships and how you can help your child or teen form healthy peer relationships.

Recognizing the Importance of Peer Relationships in Childhood

Friendships formed during childhood can significantly impact a child’s mental, emotional, and social development. Children in healthy friendships have high self-esteem, feel a sense of belonging, and develop strong communication skills. On the other hand, children in unhealthy peer relationships are exposed to negative influences, which may lead to low self-esteem, feelings of stress and anxiety, and isolation. 

Children learn how to collaborate and solve problems when interacting with friends. Moreover, they learn how to express their thoughts and manage their emotions properly through these interactions. Peer relationships during childhood prepare kids for adult relationships by equipping them with these valuable skills. 

While the quality of a child’s friendships can affect their mental health, research has also found that a lack of peer relationships during childhood might affect mental health in adulthood. An 18-year follow-up study has shown that adults who didn’t have childhood friends were more likely to face psychological difficulties compared to those who had at least one friend (*). 

Characteristics of Healthy Friendships

Parents should get to know their child’s friends because peers can influence a child’s values, beliefs, and behaviors. Healthy friendships can contribute positively to a child’s life. Here are some characteristics to look for:

  • Effective communication: Children in healthy friendships can openly express themselves and actively listen to each other. 
  • Respect: This refers to valuing each other’s opinions, feelings, and individuality. 
  • Trust: Kids with good friends feel safe and sure about their friendships. They don’t worry that their friends will do something to hurt or betray them.
  • Empathy: Good friends can understand and provide comfort during challenging times. 
  • Support: Kids in healthy relationships can cheer each other on and offer a listening ear during difficult times. 
  • Individuality: In a good friendship, each friend can be themselves and like what they like without feeling pressured to be the same as everyone else.

As a parent or caring adult, be on the lookout for signs and behaviors that may indicate unhealthy friendships in children. Friends who constantly disrespect each other’s feelings can contribute to an unhealthy relationship. Similarly, friends who pressure each other to engage in harmful behaviors should be a cause for concern.

Nurturing Healthy Friendships in School

Healthy friendships usually begin at home. Your relationship with your child greatly affects how they will form relationships with their peers at school.

A 2022 review of 19 studies examined how teenagers’ early connection with their parents can affect how they get along with their friends. The researchers found that when kids have a secure attachment with their parents, it helps them to build good friendships that are grounded on trust, good communication, intimacy, emotional support, and quality relations (*). 

A secure attachment refers to a healthy and positive emotional bond that forms between a child and their primary caregiver. It is a relationship characterized by trust and safety. This attachment style develops when caregivers are emotionally available and consistently respond to their child’s needs.

Raising a securely attached child starts from birth, by learning to understand your baby’s cues and providing for their needs. Know that it’s never too late to build a secure attachment with your child. You can start by meeting their physical and emotional needs and being consistent in doing it.

Peer Support in Academic and Emotional Growth

Friends developed during school-age years can be a source of support for children, not just in terms of academic success but also emotional support.

According to research, having supportive friends made kids more interested and involved in school. On the other hand, spending time with friends who might be causing trouble or being involved in bullying made kids less interested and engaged in school (*). 

In a 2020 longitudinal study, researchers found that high-quality interpersonal relationships played a role in promoting well-being in school, which encouraged better academic performance. Moreover, feeling good about school life enhanced the quality of interpersonal relationships, which led to improved academic achievements (*).

Teaching Friendship Skills and Social Literacy

Teaching children about friendship skills starts by modeling positive social behavior. Kids learn a lot by observing their parents. Show children how to properly interact with others by demonstrating kindness, empathy, respect, and positive communication in your relationships.

Encourage your child to participate in social-emotional learning (SEL) activities, which can help reinforce their healthy relationship skills. 

One example is social scenario role-playing, which involves asking them what they would do in different social situations, such as dealing with conflict in a peer group. Another example is writing out peer biographies to appreciate their friends’ unique characteristics better.

Identifying and Addressing Peer-Related Challenges

It’s normal for kids to encounter challenges when it comes to their friendships. As a parent or caregiver, you can guide them and provide support as they face these social interactions. You can do this by having open communication with your child. This provides them a safe space to share their experiences, feelings, and concerns about friendships and social interactions. Moreover, it helps to be vigilant about changes in your child’s behavior, mood, or academic performance. Sudden changes may indicate that they’re facing peer-related challenges. 

Be a Safe Haven

Peer relationships during childhood have a significant impact on children’s development. Help them make and maintain healthy friendships, as this can prepare them for their adult relationships as well. Establishing a nurturing home environment, characterized by safety and love, plays an important role in equipping your children with the skills to manage their relationships effectively. Aside from that, it also allows them to open up about their challenges so you can guide them to the right path. 

If you are looking to hire a nanny in Connecticut, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island, Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny can be sure to find you an experienced nanny. Additionally we offer three free professional development trainings to all nannies placed through us. Parents and nannies can learn more about healthy relationships in our online class, Mindfulness: Raising Self-Aware Children.

About The Author

Michael-Vallejo-blogger

Michael Vallejo is a Child & Family Therapist with a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through Mental Health Center Kids he hopes to support other therapists, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals with visually appealing online resources to support the well-being of kids in their care.
References:
Sakyi, K. S., Surkan, P. J., Fombonne, É., Chollet, A., & Melchior, M. (2014). Childhood friendships and psychological difficulties in young adulthood: an 18-year follow-up study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 24(7), 815–826. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-014-0626-8
Delgado, E., Sarrato, C. S., Martínez, I., & Cruise, E. (2022). Parental Attachment and Peer Relationships in Adolescence: A Systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3), 1064. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19031064
Li, Y., Lynch, A. D., Kalvin, C., Li, J., & Lerner, R. M. (2011). Peer relationships as a context for the development of school engagement during early adolescence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35(4), 329–342. https://doi.org/10.1177/0165025411402578
Kiuru, N., Wang, M., Salmela‐Aro, K., Kannas, L., Ahonen, T., & Hirvonen, R. (2019). Associations between Adolescents’ Interpersonal Relationships, School Well-being, and Academic Achievement during Educational Transitions. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 49(5), 1057–1072. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-01184-y

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