This is the third and final part of our mini series on how children build friendships at different ages. We have previously looked at babies to toddlers and also preschoolers. In this article we will look at how school aged children build their friendships.
When they reach school age, children are beginning to show a maturity towards their friendships and value them highly, but that is not to say that these coveted friendships are not without problems just because they are now that little bit older!
5 Year Olds
By age 5, children will be desperate to have a friend to call their own. The trouble is, they will not always know how to open those lines of communication correctly. Sometimes they will disrupt other children just to force a conversation. Walking through the middle of play, knocking down a tower of blocks or taking the last available piece of lego are obviously not positive ways to begin a friendship, but they will get a reaction and some attention. 5 year olds are usually very clumsy with their attempts to initiate friendships so we can help our children get positive attention from their peers by explaining a productive way to engage in conversation. Perhaps trying to join the game, or passing the last piece of lego to the child already playing with it.
Some children are more stand offish with their approach. They will lurk around the edges of a group not knowing how to join in with the play. If you see this happening then nominate that child a job that will help them join in with the game, fetching more essential items to play with for example. They will then easily be incorporated into the game without having to force each child to play together.
At age 5 children are practicing their friendship skills. As with any practice, they need to have both good and bad experiences so that they can learn. They need to practice as a leader and a follower to find how they will fit into a group. They will also need to practice in several different groups as the dynamic will not always be the same. They may have some friends who are more outgoing, in which case they will need to learn to take a follower approach at times. But then they will also encounter children who are more quiet and reserved, so they will need to learn to take the lead. It is only by practicing that they will learn how to behave in each individual situation. Once this practicing has taken place a child can then decide which role they enjoy best in a friendship.
6 Years Old
By the time a child is 6, they will have experimented with a number of different friendships and while they still enjoy playing in a group, they will often pick a best friend. At the 5 year old mark the best friend is likely to change from week to week, but by 6 children will usually settle on one or two really close friends.
They are also able to feel empathy and be able to consider their friends’ feelings and emotions before always thinking of their own. This allows them to make more deep and meaningful bonds as empathy is such an important part of friendship. They are genuinely curious about other people at this age, so will be able to ask thoughtful questions and enjoy each other’s company.
Even though 6 year olds are equipped with some skills for building friendships, they will still require some assistance. It can help if you can notice which pairings work well and encourage it, arrange catch ups outside of school hours in each other’s home environments. The children will experience friendship in a neutral territory (at school) and in their own familiar environments. If they still click well, then this friendship might be a keeper! You can also discuss with your child how they feel when someone knocks over their blocks etc, then explain to them how it make others feel the same. They will then be able to recognise this kind of behaviour is not a good way to make friends.
Gemma is a kiwi Mum of one and is the Editor for The Baby View. She also works with preschool children, loves cooking, loves sunshine, loves chocolate and loses countless hours at a time looking at cute baby pictures on Instagram!