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Health Tips for Parents

2006 Issues

How important are childhood friendships

Making and maintaining friendships are critical to a child’s social and emotional development. Learning to develop good friendships early on can help pave the way for children to maintain positive influences and solid friendships throughout their lives.

Making and maintaining friendships are critical to a child’s social and emotional development. According to Fred Frankel, Ph.D., director of the UCLA Children’s Friendship Program and author of A Good Friend is Hard to Find, parents of grade-school-aged children should seize the opportunity to introduce good friendships into a child’s life before the pre-teen years. In doing so, parents can pave the way for their child to continue solid friendships and help surround their child with good influences.

Make the connection
In elementary school, children begin selectively choosing their friends. Dr. Frankel suggests that parents help this process by asking their child about his or her playmates at school. Chemistry between children and shared interests are good starting points for a lasting friendship,” he explains.

Once a child has singled out another child, parents play a large role in fostering a deeper, lasting connection. Make sure, Dr. Frankel notes, that the child seems to share similar interests and that his or her family has similar values. Keep in mind that these children will grow up to be the young adults that your child will listen to and emulate.

Actively network with other parents and arrange one-on-one time with the children. “Play dates are the single best way for children to get to know each other without intrusion,” he says. Children gradually develop a reciprocal relationship with each other and consider themselves equals.

According to Dr. Frankel, parents should not worry about how many friends their child has. “Quality is more important than quantity,” he explains. In general, Dr. Frankel believes that one best friend may leave a child isolated and dependent; having a few close friends will help a child feel less lonely as a young adult.

Boys and girls
Dr. Frankel believes that – in order to maintain a friendship based on equality – cross-sex friendships are not as reliable as same-sex friendships. For example, other boys may tease a boy for associating with a girl in a public setting, which will upset the natural balance of the boy-girl friendship.

Dr. Frankel also points out patterns that are specific to boys and girls in making friends. Boys tend to be “looser” with friends and maintain a solid core of friends (while continually adding more) in their inner circle, and may friends from the group.

Girls, on the other hand, develop close, intense friendships. They don’t add many friendships to their existing circle, but do replace friendships when others are lost. Girls tend to form cliques – or groups of mutual best friends. “A child who longs to be part of a clique may have a misplaced motivation,” says Dr. Frankel. She may want to join a clique, not because she likes a particular girl in the clique, but rather because she wants to be part of a popular group. Parents should advise their child to befriend a particular child in the clique and see if a friendship forms.

Fixing problems
If a child starts mimicking a friend’s offensive behavior, parents should take steps to discourage that particular friendship. Parents can try to talk directly to their child and explain their concerns, but a more positive tactic is to simply encourage different friendships and set up play dates accordingly.

Children who have problems making and keeping friends may benefit from attending group therapy sessions with a parent to help get to the source of their problem and set personal goals for making friends.

Tell your child that friends often come and go throughout the gradeschool years. Friendships lose their steam for two reasons: if the bond was not that strong to begin with or when children develop different interests.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare web site at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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