Friendship is valued all over the world. It is taken for granted as a way to participate socially in society, but friendships are important in many other ways. The study “Friendship Importance Around the World”, outlines how friends are an important source of support. They help in building self-esteem, as well as foster a sense of purpose and control over our lives. Even into older adulthood, maintaining friendships can bring happiness, which contributes to better physical and mental health. In the case of children, building relationships with people is an essential part of growing up. Navigating friendships helps children develop emotionally and socially, teaching them positive values and improving their communication skills.
As a parent or teacher, you may want to guide children and students into building these formative relationships. While your involvement may be needed, it’s important to let them learn and develop friendships on their own accord. Here are some ways you can teach children about friendship:
Set yourself as a good example
Parents and teachers are role models, especially for children. As found in a study on Cureus, children and adolescents look up to role models, mentors, and heroes for guidance and motivation towards education, social, and safer behavior. Much like the way parents talk to their children about their day at school, parents should share their experiences with their own friends. You can involve children in your social life, getting them to engage with your adult friends and demonstrating how good friendships include both giving and receiving.
Teachers can also set a good example by connecting with their students. Having positive values will spur children to do the same for their peers, so it's important to be empathetic towards any struggles they’re facing. This can encourage them to mirror your behavior, show the same care and support for their friends, and allow them to maintain long-lasting friendships.
Read books about friendship
Children can be inspired and taught through stories of friendship, be it based on real-life experiences or fiction. For readers who want something with more of a “comic book” feel, the graphic memoir Real Friends is a great place to start. Going through middle school and changing friends can be challenging, so Shannon Hale’s personal experience can help prepare children for similar situations. For younger children, The Not-So-Friendly Friend presents an easy but practical way to set personal boundaries and assertively deal with bullies. Being friends with everyone is difficult, so recognizing and acting in the face of unacceptable behavior can encourage children to find the right friends and value true friendship.
Encourage group activities
One of the best ways to reinforce children’s friendships is to provide them with opportunities for group activities. As a parent, you can encourage your children to participate in extracurricular activities such as creative arts, sports, and youth groups. As shared in our post “Express Your Love For All Things Literacy During Library Lovers Month", many schools and public libraries have their own book clubs, making them positive spaces to interact with both people and books.
While certain activities like sports are a fantastic way to improve teamwork and communication, teachers should choose in-classroom projects that can be done by everyone, including people with disabilities. Having activities with smaller stakes will also put less pressure on the children, giving them better moments to build their relationships.
Our business, StickTogether, provides sticker posters for people of all ages to build together. These mosaic puzzle posters come with instructions, a coded poster grid, and square stickers to build up a beautiful image, making it a great activity to do before or after classes. One of our recommended StickTogether Sticker Poster Kits for children is the “Love is Love” poster, which promotes equity and inclusion — making it the perfect option to complete together. You can also integrate lesson plans into a small classroom scavenger hunt, allowing students to understand the importance of working in teams to solve problems. These moments give students time to learn who they click with, helping them take the step forward to establishing friendships.