FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT’S DESK
Making New Friends and Staying in Touch With Old Ones
Most parents and teachers recognize that children’s lives need to be balanced with a healthy mix of learning and socialization. In this age when children are so often plugged in to iPads, iPods, iPhones and other devices, it’s all too easy for them to become so absorbed that they’re distracted from engaging in meaningful relationships with their peers. The importance of peer relationships in children’s development is well-researched — and those of us who have remained close to a friend or two from our own school days can attest to the lasting value of childhood friendships.
Friendships provide the opportunity for children to learn important social skills, as well as to develop self-esteem and a sense of companionship and belonging. Early childhood friendships begin as essentially self-centered experiences based on pleasure. Very young children seek out others who have similar interests, but they typically do not engage in much conversation outside of these shared experiences. As children grow and mature, their friendships go beyond sharing toys and taking turns to mutual consideration and respect for differences, as well as appreciation for the similarities that brought them together.
Good friendships made during childhood and adolescence have a lasting positive impact and can lead to rewarding, intimate relationships later in life. As friendships mature, they continue across time and distance. Having an ongoing relationship with one or more special friends can be a tremendous source of emotional strength and encouragement for your child as he or she grows into young adulthood and progresses through the various stages of maturation. In times of joy (graduation from college, weddings, the birth of a child) and times of distress (illness or injury, the death of a loved one), a close, lifelong friend is a mainstay.
Encourage your child early on to develop a few close friendships by making sure he or she has the opportunity to spend one-on-one time, as well as time with friends in small groups. Large-group activities are excellent for fostering team-building and cooperation skills, as well as introducing your child to potential new friends, but they don’t provide much occasion for developing closeness. Inviting a friend for dinner or a sleepover can be a wonderful way for your child to get to know his or her companion better. When appropriate, allowing children to include a friend or two in other family activities and traditions can also go a long way toward helping them discover that differences can be as valuable as similarities in building friendships.
If your child is shy, or seems to have difficulty making new friends, remember to be supportive. Anxiety about new situations, including meeting new people, is not unusual in children. Children who are reticent may not develop friendships quickly, but do often have relationships once they are established. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good idea; teachers see children in the group setting and may be able to help by pairing your child with a compatible peer during a classroom activity. Another way to help children make new friends is by encouraging participation in extracurricular activities that appeal to their special interests. Discovering others who share their enthusiasm for a particular activity can open the door to great relationships.
Whether your child is shy or outgoing, taking the time to make sure he or she develops good friendships is well worth the effort, and the benefits are certain to last a lifetime. #