(949) 891-2127


2738 Camino Capistrano, Ste. #1
San Clemente, CA 92672
Child and Adolescent Counseling Blog for Lisa Klipfel, MFT
The psychology of friends

One of the great concerns of parents is whether their child has friends, getting along with friends, or hanging around friends. How people choose friends seems to change throughout the lifespan. I recently read an article that discussed 3 aspects - proximity, frequent interactions, and feeling comfortable. Although the article was about adults, it got me thinking about children.

When a child is in preschool, their friendships are primarily dictated by their caregivers. Whomever the parents hang out with is whom the child will see. It may be friends, or a play group, or a "mommy and me class". The child has little control over his choice of friends at this age. Some parents do make changes, if two kids are not getting along well, but that decision is still primarily the parents.

When children enter elementary school, this is the start of independent choice of friends. In the lower grades, the caregivers still have great influence as "playdates" are still often monitored with lengthy reports to the other parent as to what the kids did. Parents can easily choose to have more playdates with one child, or less with another depending on their feelings about how they got along, mutual interests, etc.

In the upper grades of elementary grades is when independent friends are developed without much influence by the parents. There is more choice on the playground. There are more requests to play with kids outside of school, with kids the parents haven't met before. This is a crucial time for social development. It is the time when kids really solidify how to interact with others. Not that it can't be changed, but is the ground work. This is the time where parental influence is most important. Talk with your children about why one child seems like a better playmate than another. If he/she is drawn to a child that they are getting in trouble together, try to figure out what he/she is getting out of the relationship. Likewise, if you have a child that is withdrawn, this is the time to encourage them to come out of their shell. Perhaps they will do best to find other introvert like them. Encouraging them to find friends who are extroverts to change your introvert to an extrovert doesn't work. Remember, they must feel comfortable to open up.

In middle school starts the testing of limits and independence. This is where trust really begins. It is starting to let go just a tiny bit. As a parent, you really learn other parent's parenting style and chances are they will not match yours. Understand that your child will be disappointed by your rules, and let you know all his friends are allowed to do everything else he/she can't. Friendships shift at this point to be highly important in their life. They will often have friends that you may not know the parents. It is a time that your "broken record" will begin and will keep playing until they graduate high school.

In high school they are preparing to "leave the nest", but remember they are still kids. They still need your advise about friends. They will come to you will problems with their friends, but will seemingly not take your advice. This is the way they learn. Be honest despite whether or not you think they will listen to your advice. Just remember to "talk" and not "lecture" about their choices with friends.

It is said that the choice of friends made in high school and in college are the ones they will keep through most of their lives. Why? It goes back to proximity, seeing each other often, and feeling comfortable opening up. As a parent, you don't have control who they feel comfortable with. You don't have much control about who lives close by, unless you move and there is no guarantee that will change things. Through out their lives, you have some control of who they "can" see. In elementary you have some control and the least control as a teen, but remember to set the expectations when they are young of who is a good friends.

Tips for guiding kids in choosing their friends:
1. Friends should treat you with respect.
2. You should be genuinely interested in what your friends talk about.
3. Friends should make you smile when you are with them.
4. Friends develop a cooperative rhythm of give and take: a sharing of turns, ideas, etc.
5. Friends care about each other and are concerned when their friends are hurt.

If you have questions about your child's social life and want to discuss how to intervene, give me a call at (949) 891-2127.

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