Navigating Friendships - Mid-Pacific Institute

Heart-to-Heart with Parents

Navigating Friendships

Posted on March 3, 2017

by Ms. Rivera on March 3, 2017

Do you remember how it was when you were in elementary school? Did you make friends easily? Or did you have trouble making friends and keeping friends? Were you in the "popular" group or one of those kids who were seldom "chosen" to be on a team? Do you remember how it felt to be left out? How did it feel when you were teased? Or, were you often called a "trouble maker, the agressor, or the bully?"

In their book, The Unwritten Rules of Friendship - Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends, Natalie Elman, Ph.D. and Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., state that "often children with social skills needs can be misunderstood. The kids with reading or math difficulties garner sympathy and lots of instructional support, but the children with social difficulties were often met with irritation and rejection, and little or no help." Elman and Kennedy-Moore further write, "One of the most common concerns that parents mention is their children's friendship problems, and that just about every child struggles socially at some point. Although these kinds of problems are normal (being teased, trying to find a buddy to play with, or feeling lost in a new classroom), they can also be very painful."


What can parents do? "Once you understand how and why your child is stumbling socially, you can take steps to smoothe the way for him or her. You can work with your child's personality rather than against it, and help your child grow and develop socially in ways that fit with his or her unique strengths," says Elman and Kennedy-Moore.

Friendships play an important part in a child's emotional health and well-being. The experiences with friends from these early years, as well as modeling from adults, often form the template for future relationships with others.

In their book, A Young Child's World (2006), Diane Papalia, Sally Olds, and Ruth Feldman, tell us that children are usually attracted to other friends who are like them in interests, age, and ethnicity. They feel comfortable with and like to do things with them. With friends, they learn to communicate and cooperate better, learn more about themselves and others, and help each other weather stressful transitions.


Many children have acquired the skills necessary to make and keep friends. For those who struggle in social situations, learning techniques for improving social skills are important.

In her book, Raise Your Child's Social IQ, Cathi Cohen lists nine skills she feels are important for making and keeping friends --

- joining in

- communicating and conversing

- reading social signals

- raising self-esteem

- coping with teasing

- managing stress

-solving social problems

- managing anger

How a child acts with friends, changes with age and also reflects cognitive and emotional growth. In A Young Child's World (Papali, Olds, Feldman), a study done on the stages of friendship (Selman & Selman, 1979), states--

In Stage 0 - "Momentary playmateship," ages three to seven, children are still egocentric and have trouble considering another person's point of view; they tend to think only about what they want from relationships.

In Stage 1 - "One-way assistance," ages four to nine, a "good friend" does what the child wants the friend to do.

In Stage 2 - "Two-way fair-weather cooperation," ages six to twelve, there is an overlap with stage one. Friendship involves give-and-take but still serves many separate self-interests.

In Stage 3 - "Intimate, mutually shared relationships," ages nine to fifteen, friendship is an ongoing, systematic, committed relationship that incorporates more than doing things for each other. Friends become possessive and demand exclusivity.

In Stage 4 - "Autonomous interdependence," beginning at age 12, children respect a friend's needs for both dependency and autonomy.

Tips for parents-

Take the time to talk with your child and help him/her process his/her experiences and feelings. If we are serious about helping our children develop adequate social skills to get along in our world, it is vital that we set aside some quality time to help our children. Help point out successes and challenges, and the effects of their actions and interactions. Be patient and understanding with your child as they go through the difficulties and joys of forming friendships. Think of times in your own childhood and your personal experiences with friendships. More importantly, at all stages, remind your child about respect for himself/herself and others. This modeling helps form the template for building lasting friendships in the future at school, home, and at work.