Developmental Years Shape Kids' Friendships

Kids make friends differently depending on their age.

We are all wired for connection and community from the beginning of our lives. We learn about friendships through what we see modeled by trusted adults and as independence grows, so do our abilities to create and keep friends on our own.

The following developmental stages can help parents and teachers better understand the connection between age and children’s ability to respond to and/or initiate friendships and build relationships as they grow.

Pre-friendship (ages 1 month-4 years): During infancy to early preschool, children can benefit socially and emotionally from regular time with other babies, children, and trusted adults. Children who attend preschool may have an easier adjustment if they have been regularly engaged with others outside of their nuclear family. 

Kindergarten & First Grade/ First two years of school (ages 5-7): How children in this age range relate with their peers ebbs and flows. Some may change playmates with frequency like they change their minds about what to play. Convenience (attending the same school or church) can provide accessibility that helps to create connection. They may also have imaginary friends that they treat and talk about as though they are real people. Sometimes schooling choices bring a “forced socialization” that some children find exhausting. 

Middle Childhood Years (ages 7-10): As kids get older, they have a growing focus on friends and begin to choose those friends themselves instead of relying on parents for connecting them through playdates, community, or church activities. Their level of independence is growing in these years, too. Kids will tend to create same gender friendships, although some will have friendships with both genders. This is also an age where relationship bullying can happen. Parents, teachers, and caregivers need to be aware of this possibility.

Transition Years (ages 10-12): This age group wants to have a consistent set of friends and they worry about losing friends. Friendships connect as they deal with identity and self-esteem issues. Friendships can help shape how kids see themselves or influence their decision making. 

Friendships for young kids help them develop socially and emotionally. Friends can help kids accept and understand each other as they actually are. Sometimes kids’ friendships can help them break away from family preconceptions (i.e. baby of the family, dependent one, etc.) and provide an opportunity for their personalities to freely develop. 

Friendships become the signposts of events in our lives or remind us of our origins. Friends can leave a lifelong impression on us, marking key moments in our lives. They can help us learn, have fun, try new experiences, and gain confidence. Friendships can also help us to engage with the world, learn about our skill sets and abilities, and connect us with opportunities. 

It is important for parents, caregivers, and trusted adults to provide opportunities for their children to meet potential friends and form social skills. When children are younger, it is good to keep temperaments/personalities in mind when making playdates. Older teens and adults also become the model for how to connect with and maintain friendships. Children will look to those older than themselves to learn social skills (greetings & good-byes, boundaries, eye contact, basic conversational skills, etc.). These foundational skills will lay a basis for children’s relationships as they grow and throughout their adult lives.

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