Friendship is an in-depth relationship, which is based on reciprocal social interactions with a peer. It involves trust, companionship, respect and emotional support.
Friendships are important to children of all ages, although the nature and characteristics of friendships change as children grow older. Children require social skills to develop friendships and in so doing, develop further social skills. In order to develop successful friendships children need to be able to:
- respond to each other's emotions,
- understand the minds of others (theory of mind)
- have sensitivity to moral issues. e.g. sharing, cheating. (Dunn, Cutting and Fisher 2002)
Implications for teachers
There are gender differences, with boys' friendships being seen as more straightforward (Nilan 1991).
Girls in the primary phase of schooling often have friendships that focus around a single leader with an ‘inner circle' and an additional pool of girls who are on the periphery (George and Brown 2000). Although these friendships provide mutual emotional support, they can lead to exclusion due to the ever-changing dynamics. This can be distressing and debilitating.
In adolescence friendships can develop a more intimate focus. There is a greater willingness to exchange confidences and share problems
- Friends play a vital role on facilitating children's transition to formal schooling and assist directly in children's ability to learn. (Peters 2003)
- Parents, carers and teachers need to provide opportunities for children to make friends during their transition to school. This may form part of a school's induction policy.
- Friends can provide emotional support, which may need to be taken into consideration when planning groupings within the classroom.
- The ever-changing dynamics of friendships, particularly in girls, can impact on the ability to engage classroom activities.
- Friendships rarely emerge spontaneously in children with autistic spectrum disorders and frequently require mediation of others, e.g. parents or teachers.
- A teacher's perception and subsequent actions can influence a child's status and acceptance within the peer group.
- Some children may require to be taught the social strategies necessary to form and maintain friendships.
- Break time is a significant time where children have opportunities to develop skills and experience issues associated with friendship. Games in the playground can provide a medium through which shared activities can take place and thus friendships develop. Break time can be a time of intense loneliness and anxiety for some children. Schools need to put in place interventions that will help to address this issue. e.g. playground buddies.
Bauminger, N.,Shulman,C. (2003) The Development and Maintenance of Friendship in High Functioning Children with Autism. Maternal Perceptions. Sage Publications and the National Autistic Society. 7, 81-97.
Blatchford, P. (1999) Friendships at School. The Role of Breaktimes. Education 3 to 13. 27 (1) 60-66.
Brown, N., George, R. (2000) ‘ Are you in or are you out?' An Exploration of Girl Friendship Groups in the Primary Phase of Schooling. Inclusive education, 4 (4) 289 - 300.
Cutting, A., Dunn, J., Fisher, N. (2002) Old Friends, New Friends: Predictors of Children's Perspective on their Friends at School. Child development 73 (2) 621 - 635.
Erwin, P. (1998) Friendship in Childhood and Adolescence. London: Routledge.
Faulkner, D., Littleton, K.,Woodhead, M.(Eds) ( 1999) Making Sense of Social Development .London: Open University press, Routledge.
Nilan, P. (1991) Exclusion, Inclusion and Moral Ordering in Two Girl's Friendship Groups. Gender and Education, 7, 259 - 281
Peters, S. (2003) "I Didn't Expect That I Would Get Tons of Friends .... More Each day": Children's experiences of friendship during the transition to school. Early Years, 23 (1), 45 - 53.