February 11th is National Make a Friend Day!
Good friendships play an important role in maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. In fact, some studies have shown that having close friends can positively impact your health, boost confidence, reduce stress levels, and even increase your chances of living longer!
Friends are key for everyone, but studies have found that friendships in young children may have even more of a mental and emotional impact since such relationships are highly influential in a child’s development. A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign determined that friendships made during a child’s preschool years can provide a valuable setting for developing communicative, emotional, and overall social skills. Even at such a young age, these friendships give children feelings of security and a sense of being part of a group. Additionally, similar to its effects on adults, having friends can lower children’s stress levels and thus increase overall health and happiness.
Dr. Paul Schwartz, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College and an expert in child behavior, further explains some of these crucial social skills learned in childhood friendships. Schwartz notes that friendships create an area for children to learn about differing viewpoints, as well as grow to understand the nuances and rules of conversation. Schwartz even speculates that a child’s experiences with good friendships could be a factor in positive school performance.
How can children demonstrate how to be good friends? In Friends at School by Rochelle Bunnett, which intertwines friendship and learning at a mixed-ability preschool, friends go to the park, eat snacks together, and tell stories. At the end of the day, all of the students put on their coats and wave goodbye to each other before going home.
For slightly older children, Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! by Miriam Cohen shows readers how they can notice when someone is lonely and begin a new friendship. When Alex, the new kid at school, gets in trouble for lying, everyone shuns him—except Jim, who decides Alex needs a friend.
Be Quiet, Marina! by Kirsten DeBear and Laura Dwight illustrates how children can be friends in light of differences and difficulties. Two girls—Marina, who has cerebral palsy, and Moira, who has Down syndrome—have a hard time playing together. However, the two soon learn to communicate their feelings, and are now the best of friends!
In Show Me How To Be A Friend, J.A. Barnes helps young children on the Autism spectrum understand how they can be good friends. The book opens with “What do I do to make a friend?” before displaying young children sharing toys, taking turns, and saying sorry when they hurt each other. Pictures throughout the book feature children hugging, laughing, and playing, to help the reader understand how to be a good friend.
Today, encourage your child to make a new friend!