How to support childhood friendships

The MIND 24-7 Team | May 21, 2024

Childhood friendships are an important part of development during the school-age years. These relationships offer more than just companionship. They contribute to a child’s emotional, social and psychological growth. As parents, teachers and caregivers, it’s essential to understand the dynamics of childhood friendships and learn how to support them effectively.

The importance of school-age friendships

For kids, making friends offers many benefits, including:

  • Emotional support: Friends provide a sense of belonging and acceptance, which is crucial for children’s self-esteem and emotional well-being.
  • Social skills: Through interactions with peers, children learn essential social skills such as communication, empathy, cooperation and conflict resolution.
  • Cognitive development: Engaging with friends can enhance cognitive skills through collaborative play and shared learning experiences.
  • Identity formation: Friendships help children explore their interests and values, contributing to their sense of identity.

Challenges in school-age friendships

Although friendships are beneficial, they also can be challenging. Some common issues include:

  • Peer pressure: Children may face pressure to conform to group norms, which can lead to stress and anxiety.
  • Exclusion: Being excluded from a group or friendship can cause emotional pain and impact self-esteem.
  • Conflict: Disagreements and misunderstandings are natural in any relationship but can be particularly challenging for children to navigate.

7 ways to support childhood friendships

1. Encourage inclusivity and empathy

  • Model positive behavior: Children learn a lot from observing adults. Be sure to demonstrate inclusive behavior and empathy when you interact with others.
  • Teach empathy: Encourage your child to consider others’ feelings and perspectives. Discuss scenarios and ask how they think others might feel in those situations.

2. Facilitate opportunities for socialization

  • Plan playdates and group activities: Arrange playdates or involve your child in group activities where they can meet and interact with peers.
  • Encourage extracurricular activities: Encourage participation in sports, clubs or arts programs, where children can build friendships based on shared interests.

3. Provide guidance on conflict resolution

  • Keep communication lines open: Maintain open lines of communication with your child. Encourage them to talk about their friendships and any issues they might be facing.
  • Teach problem-solving skills: Teach your child strategies for resolving conflicts, such as taking turns speaking, using “I” statements to express feelings and how to compromise.

4. Foster a positive self-image

  • Offer praise and encouragement: Provide positive reinforcement for your child’s efforts to make and maintain friendships.
  • Promote independence: Allow your child to make choices and solve problems independently. This can help build confidence and resilience.

5. Be attentive to bullying

  • Recognize signs: Be aware of signs of bullying, such as changes in behavior, reluctance to go to school or unexplained physical marks.
  • Take action: If you suspect bullying, address it promptly. Communicate with school officials and work together to find a solution.

6. Balance supervision and independence

  • Supervise interactions: For younger children, supervised playdates can ensure a safe and positive environment.
  • Encourage autonomy: As children grow older, gradually give them more independence in managing their friendships while remaining available for guidance.

7. Support during transitions

  • Make moving or changing schools easier: If your family is moving or your child is changing schools, support them in maintaining old friendships and forming new ones.
  • Expect an adaptation period: Be patient and understanding as your child adjusts to new social environments.

Today’s friendships build a foundation for the future

Supporting school-age friendships requires a balance of guidance, encouragement and independence. By helping your child practice empathy, providing opportunities for socialization and teaching conflict-resolution skills, parents and caregivers can help children navigate the complexities of friendships. These efforts not only enhance the child’s current social experiences but also lay the foundation for healthy, supportive relationships in the future.

If you or your child is struggling to make or keep friends, MIND 24-7 can help.
MIND 24-7
is here for you and your family. We offer walk-in treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns—24 hours a day, every day of the year, including holidays. All adults and youth are welcome. We accept most insurance, Medicare and AHCCCS. If you or a loved one needs mental health care, visit one of our convenient locations in the Phoenix area or text/call 1-844-MIND247.