Despite the common myths about friendship, children don't need to have lots of friends to feel secure and content. What most children want are one or two close friends and a wider circle of occasional playmates.
So what do children learn from their friendships and how does this help them to become self reliant and independent?
1) Making their own fun
Knowing how to make the most of your free time is a key life skill. Avoiding boredom to occupy yourself and make others happy increases your chances of lifelong well being. The importance of play is vastly under rated, just playing around involves more than passing time. Having fun floods our bodies with endorphins which make us feel good and helps us to offset the effects of other pressures in life. Small children look to their parents to create fun and to help them regulate their moods. Later in life children need to learn to do this independently from the family and friendships become vital to well being.
2) Developing creativity and imagination.
Play gives children huge scope for allowing their imagination free reign. This independence of mind allows children to move away from the real world and invent new possibilities of who they are and what they can do. Every invention and scientific discovery comes from asking why and not accepting the world as it is now. Creativity is central to educational and to vocational achievement. Children who have learnt how to play have learnt a key lesson for life.
3) Learning to cooperate
Friends are equals and to stay together children have to learn the rules of give and take. Friendships, where one child is the dominant partner are not true friendships because a real friend is in tune with our thoughts and feelings and wants the best for us. Play teaches children how to cooperate so that the game continues rather than being abandoned. Very young children can only see the world from their own view point because their thinking skills have not developed sufficiently to be objective. Play and friendship provide a fun way to learn about other people and to become sensitive to others needs and interests.
4) Learning about yourself-discovering identity
Realising that not everyone is the same happens gradually from the age of 4or 5 years. This opens a child's mind to understanding more about themselves. They find out their preferences and dislikes, what they are skilled at doing and what they find more challenging. Play gives them a safe space to explore who they are and what works for them.
5) Solving problems
Even good friends get stuck sometimes and face challenges about how to spend their time or how to resolve differences. If a game doesn't work out as planned, something has to be done to get things going again. Play provides a relaxed context for problem solving. Finding your own solution gives children a real sense of achievement and independence.
Modern life gives us so many choices about how to spend time that sometimes children find it easier to stay home with the TV or games consoles. While that's OK sometimes, neither of those playmates teaches our children the social skills they need for life. Learning those skills while you are young and having fun is so much easier.
Jeni Hooper is a Parent Coach and Director of Happy2Learn. She can be contacted at http://www.happy2learn.co.uk
Jeni has over 20 years experience working with families to help them create the life that they want. Families across the world can benefit from coaching with Happy2Learn using telephone and email consultations which are flexible and convenient.
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