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Encouraging your child to make friends

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Health & Development Friends and relationships

Ideally, we all want friends who we can be ourselves with, who make us feel respected, valued and supported and who we can share our thoughts and feelings with honestly. But making friends isn’t always easy! Some children will make friends with everyone they meet, while others take longer to form bonds. Here are some ways you can support your child to make good friends.

How do children make friends?

Children’s friendships can be very different to adult friendships, and the ways they make friends and interact with them change as they grow up. This overview shows you what your child’s friendships are likely to look like at different ages and stages, and you can read about this in more detail here if you’re interested. Of course there are no set rules, so if your child’s friendships don’t seem to fit this pattern there’s absolutely nothing to worry about!

Age 3-6: ‘I want it my way’

At this age, children have fun together, but change friends frequently. They can’t yet see situations from someone else’s perspective, so can get upset if their friends don’t feel the same way they do.

Age 5-9: ‘What’s in it for me?’

At this stage, children tend to think about what they get from a friendship rather than what they can give. They may use friendship as a bargaining chip: ‘I’ll be your friend if…’

Age 7-12: ‘Play by the rules’

By this age, children can see things from a friend’s point of view, but can’t yet see what they bring to the friendship.  Fairness is very important at this stage, as is a sense of wanting to fit in. This is when they might start saying things like ‘no-one will like me with this haircut’ or ‘no-one will play with me if I don’t have this toy’.

Age 8-15: ‘Caring and sharing’

From this, age children can start to help each other solve problems and confide thoughts and feelings they don’t tell anyone else.

Age 12 upwards: ‘Friends through thick and thin’

From this age, children can start to develop trusting, supportive, close friendships, where differences can be accepted and appreciated.

How can I support my child to make friends?

What about romantic friendships?

Even in primary school children may feel pressure to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Well-meaning friends or relatives may ask them if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend yet. This can get in the way of girls and boys simply being friends, so try not to tease them about this or push them to define their friendships. By helping them be assertive and confident and have fun with their friends, you’ll be building a good foundation for them to have a relationship when they’re older with someone who respects and cares for them.

Last updated: 1 May, 2023