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Forming Best Friends Relationships

Typically, kids ages five through 9 begin forming best friends relationships.  What do these relationships indicate about the psychosocial development of the kids?  How can parents foster these relationships and help their kids establish healthy boundaries within them?

What do these relationships indicate about the psychosocial development of the kids?

According to the Eight Stages of Development developed by psychiatrist, Erik Erikson, kids who are beginning to form best friends relationships have likely already passed through several more fundamental stages of development.  These include:  deciding how much trust can be granted to people in general, establishing baseline self-awareness, attempting to make one’s own decisions, attempting to (or learning how to) cooperate with others, attempting to (or learning how to) lead and follow, etc.  Once these stages of development are achieved (although not necessarily healthfully), kids move on to the stage of development in which best friends relationships are formed.  According to Erikson, each stage of development is a foundation for the successive stages.  So, if one stage is achieved in an unhealthy manner, that unhealthy experience will create challenges in the following stages of development.  If a child has decided that s/he cannot easily trust people in general, then best friends relationships will typically lack depth, duration, and relational health.  However, when stages are achieved in a healthy manner, then following stages of development can be achieved with a stronger foundation of health.  So, if a child has decided that s/he can highly trust people in general, then best friends relationships will typically be open, sharing, and strong relationships.

How can parents foster these relationships and help their kids establish healthy boundaries within them?

Parents can foster these early best friends relationships by scheduling play dates, sleep-overs, and other fun activities between the best friends.  Parents can also ask their kids about what they did with their best friends at school that day or otherwise engage their kids in discussions about their relationships with their best friends.  Parents’ positive interest in and encouragement of kids’ best friends relationships are essential in the fostering of these relationships.

Parents can help their kids learn healthy boundaries with their best friends by letting their kids see how they (the parents) maintain healthy boundaries with their own best friends, coaching and counseling their kids when they see a boundary issue within their kids’ best friends relationships, etc.  For example, if parents see their child becoming overly involved in the life of his/her best friend, the parents can have a calm, nurturing, non-critical conversation about healthy relationship boundaries.  Learning healthy boundaries in a relationship is like learning any other life lesson: it is typically accomplished by trial and error, so guidance is needed.  Parents need to show their kids how.

In sum, parents’ understanding of their kids’ psychosocial development and how to help their kids learn to have and be a best friend is essential for healthy child development.

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