In the last week news has broken that some schools in the UK will be favouring group play and actively discouraging children from making best friends. The reason they say they are doing this is very simply to help the child avoid the pain of breaking up from their best friends, but in reality is this a fair way forward for children and does this protect their best interests?
To start answering this question, first of all, it is necessary to address exactly why friendships are so important to children across the ages. The range of reasons are complex but can be summarized in the following list:
- Advantageous for mental health
- Assists wellbeing
- Encourages social development
- Aids emotional development
- Can increase self confidence
- Improves performance at school
- Increases levels of happiness
- Teaches children how to relate to each other
- Boosts levels of co-operation
- Expands communication skills
- Fosters an ability to negotiate
- Develops empathy
- Creates a sense of responsibility
- Nurtures a sense of helpfulness
With such an extensive list, it is blatantly apparent why it is so necessary to encourage children to embrace friendships from an early age. However, it is also important to realise that over time the nature of a child’s friendship experience will change. In 1975 Brian Biglow and John La Gaipa undertook a pioneering study on children’s friendships which identified a three stage development of friendship expectations. This three stage model was therefore proposed.
FIRST STAGE – Emphasis on shared activities and concrete expectations such as the need for proximity to friends.
SECOND STAGE – An evident transition towards an expectation of sharing, loyalty and commitment.
THIRD STAGE – Expectations leaning towards similarities; similar attitudes, values and interests.
Friendship experiences therefore need to be diverse, providing children with the opportunity to play with their peer groups to encourage positive social skills as they grow and develop over time. Limiting an opportunity can be counter mount to healthy, all round development. It seems obvious that children should have such opportunities to play in groups as well as form relationships with “best friends” as they require so that they are able to access the full range of learning opportunities and skills necessary for life beyond childhood which are as much to do with forging relationships as dealing with the fall out from a fall out with resilience and a solution led approach. The arguments therefore that state that this policy move in schools will help children avoid the pain of break ups may well cause them further anguish in the future even if they make life easier for the child, and of course the teaching staff, in the interim.
Resultantly to enable children to access opportunities for a plethora of different healthy friendships would seem to be the way forward whereby adults can support and help children solve problems they encounter on the way. Without such support, or indeed the lessons learnt from this, how will children learn to deal with conflict, confrontation and dispute in the future?
Resolving conflict however, can be a scary matter to deal with for some parents but in essence there are some simple and effective measures that will help parents to help their children deal effectively with this:
1. Encourage children to avoid blame
2. Give time and space for child to discuss relationships with adults to help the child feel supported and develop communication skills.
3. Help children solve problems themselves by talking through the problems at hand with an adult and reflect on what has happened, acknowledge how they feel and plan a way forward.
In essence therefore children’s friendships are complex and become more so as children develop. However, with support and encouragement from diligent adults en route, these friendships (both group and individual) can be the cornerstone to positive outcomes in their lives.