Children and Friendship
We didn’t realise we were making memories; we just knew we were having fun. – Winnie the Pooh
Friendships are relationships which follow human beings all throughout their social lives, from crib to grave. At different points in one's life, these central associations serve different purposes and fulfill different needs. The friendships of children have significant impact upon their social and emotional development.
According to child psychologists Domash and Sachs (1994, p. 19), "A good friend can give a child an honest window into his own soul, a reflection of the way he sees the world and how it sees him. And the bonds our children forge in their earliest years allow them to explore relationships more freely and successfully later on." Furthermore, they conclude, childhood friendships - their tone, intensity and emotional content - reverberate in adult relationships. Thus, the study of these paramount relationships can help us understand a lifetime of relating.
Researcher William Damon theorized a three stage sequence outlining the development and progression of friendship in children (Berk, 1994).
According to this schema, Level 1 friendship is conceptualized in concrete ways reflecting play and sharing, without reference to individual personality or endurance of connection. This stage generally reflected the ideas of children ages 4 - 7.
Level 2 represents an evolving conceptualization of friendship which encompasses a deeper and more meaningful connection among individuals. This level reflects the attitudes of children 8 - 10 years old. It is in this stage that a bond develops based upon mutual need gratification. Additionally, friendships become more structured and complex.
Level 3 friendships were theorized to exist in children 11 - 15 years and older. This is the age group where friends are of paramount importance to the emerging self-concept of the individual. According to Damon, it is apparent in this stage that children are seeking emotional connectedness and bonding from their peer relationships.
Friendships mean many different things to human beings throughout the life cycle. Their importance changes as one's psychological needs change and develop. Domash’s and Sachs's (1994) schema represents an organized structure for understanding some of these changes in children's conceptualization of the friend relationship.
As adults concerned with the welfare of children, we must help facilitate healthy friendships so that the capacity for intimacy and relating extends throughout their lives to their family and work roles, giving them adequate skills to deal effectively with various types of people. For, like the poet John Dunne proclaimed, "No man is an island".
Berk, L. E. (1994). Child Development. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Domash, L. & Sachs, J. (1994). “Wanna be my friend? How to strengthen your
child's social skills. New York, NY: Hearst Books.