Childhood is a time for exploring and learning about the world including the people that inhabit that world. Friends become very important to children and help to enrich a child’s life in many ways.
Childhood research suggests that children have a friend or friends are less depressed or anxious than children who do not. Further, the research suggests that siblings cannot fill in or take the place of friendships. Through friendships, children can learn how they like to be treated and how they should treat others.
Like most learned behaviors, much of what children will learn will be modeled by the adults around them. If children inhabit an environment where social competencies like generosity, cooperation and empathy are being regularly modeled by adults, there will be a strong liklihood that children will learn these desirable, prosocial behaviors.
When children are very young adults may have to look for opportunities to reinforce prosocial behaviors when children act kindly toward another child or adult. Given the opportunity, children will learn to cooperate and to share with other children. These behaviors, once mastered with a friend, or several friends can be shared with the larger group. Children raised in this way experience how good it feels to be nice to others. These children are also learning important lessons about taking care of others and themselves. In the process, children learn that words can and do hurt and name calling and teasing can make someone miserable.
While playing competitive games with children can teach them many important lessons, it is a model based on someone winning and someone losing. It can be helpful to teach children how to play cooperative games where the entire group or several small groups work toward a common goal. In this model, the group wins together. This model also offers an opportunity to discuss different levels of success or winning. For example is winning at all cost worth hurting or losing friends while achieving a personal triumph? As children get older, competition can be more reasonably experienced by the child and better managed.
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