What does a good friend mean to your child?
“My child’s best friend is moving!” This was the panic call I received yesterday. It is a very valid concern for many parents, even more so in International Schools where the population is so transited.
As an international counselor, I have had many of our parents insist that their child must be with their best friend in the next school year. Due to the movement in International Schools, this means at some point shortly, this child will seem friendless and it so sad when their ‘best friend moves on.
Every child needs to feel connected and involved with other children. This is often through a common interest, gymnastics, after-school activities, sleepovers, etc. This does not mean that during the school day that they need to be only connected to their best friend.
Connections are Important
It is vital for a child to have a connection or a best buddy to help them through transition times. It is nice to see a familiar face when you have the first day of school. Or it is nice to be with a few friends when you move from elementary school to middle school. There are times that a connection is a significant part of a child’s life.
The most significant pitfall is when your friend limits you from making new friends or making friends that might open your choices or focus on things to do. It is hard for a child to get interested in a new sport or new musical instrument if they never hear or see a peer involved in the activity. Kids learn by seeing others do it. If you have a reluctant reader do you just want them to be with other boys who love to play outside all the time or do you want them also to have a friend that loves to read and will get them into trying new books?
The Parent’s Role
I feel it is important for children to have close connections to their family and well as friends. To forge that vital close connection, you need to understand the way healthy relationships develop. I have a master’s in clinical psychology and work with a focus on family therapy with our international population. I often educate parents on Neufeld six stages of attachment ‘.
1. The most primitive and basic stage of attachment is Proximity. Through touch, contact, and closeness, the infant begins attaching to his or her parents.
2. Secondly, toddlers seek Sameness with their parents, mimicking their mannerisms or dress and looking for ways to be the same as their parents.
3. The third stage is Belonging or Loyalty. Often three-year-olds will be very possessive and say “my mommy or my daddy.”
4. Four-year-olds seek reassurance of the strength of their attachment to parents by wanting evidence of their Significance. This is the fourth stage.
5. The fifth stage develops around the age of five when we see the beginnings of genuine Love as attachment goes deeper and deeper.
6. And finally, the sixth stage. From age six onward, if the attachment roots have gone deep enough, we have a child who allows him or herself to venture out into Being Known.
This creates the foundation for virtually every relationship your child will ever have, beginning with parents, and later with siblings, friends and intimate partners.
This Attachment is the Cornerstone of Parenting
It can help with keeping your child on track academically, managing challenging behavior, and maintaining the all-important role of being the one they turn to for advice and support.
BUT, sadly parents often put more of a focus on their child’s friends than they do on their own parent/child connection. They take it for granted that because they are parent and child that the connection will be strong.
I feel child to child friendships are vital, but they are also very ‘natural.’ If children are given some freedom with the day, they will find friends and enjoy doing things together. If a child has too much structure and no free time, finding and keeping friends become the job of the parents and it tends not to be natural and therefore not a very strong connection for the child.
Let Your Children Play