If we think back to our own childhood days, most of us would agree that making good friends in primary school was not always an easy task. Sometimes friendships occurred out of convenience or survival when there were a limited number of peers to choose from. Sometimes friendship was an utility to be bought and sold through the transaction of lollies or other interesting lunchbox snacks
Sometimes friendship developed through shared interests and extra-curricular activities. But the friendships found to stand the tests of time are those that work to enhance both lives through a mutual sense of humor, empathy, honesty,loyalty, trust and respect.
From this perspective, the best type of friendship is not based on utility, pleasure or convenience which may dissolve over time, but rather the character or virtues of both people. Such friendship needs to be given freely (rather than forced), reciprocal (rather than one sided), and recognise the virtues both people contribute in getting to know each other and themselves more deeply.
What is developmentally normal?
From a sociological perspective, friendship is not a series of biologically determined hoops children are expected to jump through in sequential order. Children draw on social strategies to resist or create their own peer culture in ways that may differ from adult expectations. They don’t simply mimic adult socialisation.
Yet, the members of select cliques still define what’s considered normal or acceptable within this peer culture. In fact, being chosen as friend by those of equal or higher peer status can decrease the risk of peer victimisation.
Given such complexity in friendship formation, it’s not surprising many parents are concerned with how their children can make quality friendships in primary school. Particularly as research has found a positive link between high-quality friendships and better academic results. They also experience less stress from peer exclusion.
So, if high-quality friendships are important for student academic results and stress reduction, what can parents and teachers do to facilitate this?
What parents can do?
There are some general based strategies that have proven to assist in friendship formation without the risk of “bonsai parenting” (where parents over-nurture their children) or “bubble-wrapping” children. These include:
- sending your child to a more culturally diverse school where no students represents the majority of the population and there is a lower risk of visibility and peer victimisation
- encouraging your child to participate in school-based extra-curricular activities such as sport, creative arts or youth groups where they have the opportunity to broaden their social networks
- organising play dates with peers who are socially competent and have similar interests to your child.
- supporting your child’s own strategies for making friends at school such as observing peers, initiating or participating in clubs or teams and intervening to include others.
What teachers can do?
Given the large amount of time students spend at school, teacher also have a role to play in supporting students to make and maintain positive friendships through:
- explicitly teaching interpersonal skills such as expressing opinions in constructive ways, respecting differences and caring about the feelings of others.
- providing time, space and opportunities for students to work or play with others, identify new friends and maintain their existing friendships.
- being aware of peer culture and attuned to changes, tensions and exclusions in student friendship groups in the classroom or on the playground
- creating a safe place where children can discuss friendship issues such as regular “circle-time”.
Research has shown that friendships,if maintained have a positive effect on academic performance and mental health.
Nevertheless, both children and adults should know when a friendship needs to be dissolved if they breach our trust or damage our well-being.
This article has been written by Dr.Natasha Wardman and first appeared in “The Conversation”.