Whether a large group or close-knit few, having a circle of friends is crucial in life. For children it is especially important as they learn social skills and navigate interactions with people outside of their family. Feeling like they belong and have a support system is crucial for kids.

Some children may make friends easily while others may feel shy and unsure of how to spark up a conversation. Regardless of natural social instincts, every child can benefit from having parents and family who take the time to teach and model skills to make and keep healthy friendships.

Early Friendships

A child’s first friends are generally their families—those closest to them whom they have known their whole lives. There’s no need to be shy, as having family around is completely natural. Children will learn manners and behaviors based on what is modeled around them, 

Getting them outside of their comfort zone is another thing. As a child’s world expands, so does their social circle, including neighbors, family friends, school peers, sports teammates, or church members. It is through these relationships and budding friendships that children learn to navigate the world around them in appropriate and socially-acceptable ways.

Learning Social Skills

Dr. Paul Schwarts, professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College, explains, “There is little doubt having friends is extremely important to children. Friendships contribute significantly to the development of social skills, such as being sensitive to another’s viewpoints, learning the rules of conversation, and age-appropriate behaviors.”

Learning these rules is the beginning of children understanding expected behavior, like waiting their turn to go down a slide. If these rules aren’t followed, a child may find themselves feeling like an outcast or like they don’t belong. 

While every child should embrace their individuality, an inability to make and keep friends can have a severe impact on their self esteem, happiness, mental health, and overall well-being.

Negative Impacts of Loneliness

No one wants to see their child lonely or sad or in pain. But there can be lasting implications from loneliness that stretch beyond a single bad day at school. Research shows clear connections between loneliness and depression.

A study published in Development and Psychopathology showed that children who experience periods of loneliness were more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and poor sleep.

In fact, “more than half the children referred for emotional behavioral problems have no friends or find difficulty interacting with peers,” according to Dr. Schwarts. However, he continues, “Compared to children who lack friends, children with ‘good’ friends have higher self-esteem, act more socially, can cope with life stresses and transitions, and are also less victimized by peers.”

Children who learn social skills and build friendships are more confident, feel better about themselves, and are more equipped emotionally to deal with challenges. More specifically, having “good” influences and healthy friendships has an even greater positive impact.

The Importance of Healthy Friendships

Research consistently highlights the positive impacts of healthy friendships on children’s well-being. Here are a few compelling statistics:

  • According to a study published in the Journal of School Psychology, children with strong friendships have a higher sense of belonging and greater satisfaction with their lives.
  • According to a research report by the University of Illinois, children who have healthy friendships demonstrate better emotional intelligence and are more likely to succeed academically.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes that strong friendships contribute to improved mental health outcomes, reducing the risk of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.
  • A longitudinal study conducted by the University of Virginia discovered that individuals who had strong friendships in childhood were more likely to experience better physical and mental health outcomes throughout their lives.
  • The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development emphasizes that children who have positive peer relationships show higher self-esteem and are less prone to engaging in risky behaviors.
  • A study conducted by the University of Cambridge revealed that children with strong friendships exhibit higher levels of resilience and are better equipped to cope with stress and adversity. Having supportive friends can serve as a protective factor against the negative impact of challenging life events, helping children bounce back and maintain a positive outlook.

Encouraging your child to develop healthy friendships not only enhances their happiness and well-being but also equips them with important skills that will support them throughout their lives.

Guidance and support play a crucial role in your child’s social development. By nurturing their social skills and fostering a positive and inclusive environment, you provide them with the tools they need to navigate and cherish meaningful relationships.