I’m pleased to include a guest post by Eileen Kennedy-Moore. Eileen is an author, psychologist and speaker whom I’ve gotten to know through a professional writers’ forum. After some back and forth, Eileen and I decided to focus on friendship and its impact on mental health. Here’s her take on the merits of friendship for children.
Children Thrive With A Little Help From Their Friends
When I was a child, my sister and I used to get together with the neighbour kids and create shows. There would be numerous and varied acts, multiple costume changes, and a shifting cast. We created tickets and offered refreshments for our parent audience members. Preparing the show involved inspiration, arguments, and the occasional tears, and the performance invariably had calamities like falling curtains and wandering toddlers, but somehow the show went on, and we all enjoyed the final bows.
For most adults, some of our fondest memories of childhood involve the times we spent playing with friends. In some sense, friendship is what childhood is all about. Friendships are not only a source of fun; they also help children grow in meaningful ways.
Here are some of the things that children can gain through friendships:
1) Identity: Friends help children begin to discover who they are outside the family. Friendships are based on common interests, so by selecting friends, children declare something about who they are: “My friends and I play baseball” or “We all like the new Harry Potter movie!” When children have a friend who likes them, it can also help them to see themselves as likeable.
2) Coping: A friend is an ally. Having a friend means it’s easier to cope with disappointments.A recent study also found that children who have at least one friend are less likely to become depressed.
3) Problem solving: Friendships give children lots of opportunities to work out disagreements. This gives kids a chance to practice skills of persuasion, negotiation, compromise, acceptance, and forgiveness.
4) Empathy: Probably the most important benefit of friendship is that it encourages children to move beyond self-interest. Caring about a friend, or even just wanting to play with that friend can help children reign in selfish impulses and encourage caring responses.
Friendships are fun and painful, exciting and frustrating, challenging, enjoyable, and unpredictable—kind of like life. Whether children are putting on a show, negotiating where base is during a game of tag, or deciding which video game to play together, they are developing the skills they will use through out their lives.
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD is a Princeton, NJ psychologist (lic. #4254) who works with adults, children, and families. She is co-author of two books for parents: Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential (NEW! Jossey-Bass/Wiley) and The Unwritten Rules of Friendships: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends (Little, Brown).
She is also the author of a children’s book, What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents’ Attention Without Hitting Your Sister (Parenting Press). Her website is http://www.EileenKennedyMoore.com