As the year comes to an end and friendships over the past year have cemented, our children go off for 6 weeks only to return to school to a new homeroom with a new cohort of peers. This is exciting for some and daunting for others including the students’ parents! Being aware of the issues that arise when making new friends, taking into account maturation and emotional development, it is important to remind ourselves that children’s play will change overtime and so will their friendships. We also need to be mindful that every student has the potential to change their behaviours and, in their own time, develop appropriate social behaviours.
Children choose friends who have similar interests and enjoy similar activities, whether it be active play in groups or gentler play in smaller groups of just two or maybe three students. During Primary School, close friendships are more commonly made with a child of the same gender but not always. Friends cooperate and communicate more with each other than with other children. They also have conflicts more often, but usually manage to settle them without upsetting the friendship. Friends influence each other’s behaviour. Over time friends may take on similar mannerisms, language and preferences. Although friendships usually have positive effects, friends who have behavioural problems may encourage problem behaviour in one another.
As children’s interests and developmental needs change, their friendship patterns may also change. By the middle of Primary School it is common for children to form small friendship groups based around similar interests. These groups often establish their own rules about who can join them. Setting rules and learning to negotiate them is important for helping children to develop their understanding of social relationships. However, when children lack cooperative relationship skills it can lead to friendship groups being dominated by some children and excluding others.
Parents and teaching staff have important roles to play in helping children develop friendships. They set examples for children to follow through the ways they manage relationships. They can also act as coaches and mentors for children, teaching them helpful social skills and talking through friendship issues to help with solving problems. As children learn how to manage social situations, having opportunities to talk about relationships with parents and teachers helps them feel supported and develops their communication skills.
Over the long holiday break, it would be advantageous for parents to encourage play dates with a variety of children. Talk to your child about the positive aspects of meeting new friends in the coming year and remind them that we all have the potential for growth and change.