Why does my child want to be with friends all the time?

     The early elementary years are a time of increased socializing. As kids become less egocentric they’re better able to consider other children’s feelings and viewpoints. Six- to nine-year-olds not only tolerate each other’s differences, but actually enjoy learning about friends’ interests. They generally play cooperatively, work together, and follow the rules of games. Although there are still arguments, they now have an easier time letting go and accepting others’ opinions.

     Kids may have many friends in school or in the neighborhood, but usually find one or two they most enjoy being with. It sometimes seems to parents that their child is more interested in friends than family, and increasingly this may be the case. While six- and seven-year-olds look almost exclusively to their parents for love and acceptance, an eight- to nine-year-old also looks to friends for approval. He wants to be like his peers and may argue with his parents: “I don’t want to go to Aunt Jan’s. I want to go skating with Joey.” “Why can’t Judy come over today?” “Can’t we bring Bailey to the circus with us?”

     When a child forms a strong friendship, his entire family is affected. There are phone calls back and forth and weekend and after-school plans to make. He may badger his parents to buy him what his friend has or to let him do what his friend does. Friends may want to play the same sports, join the same activities, dress similarly, be in the same class, and go to the same camp.

     You may find yourself in the middle of arrangements between your child and his friends. Although it can be frustrating to plan around kids’ requests, you’ll also see the value of friendships to your child. He’ll share some ideas with his friends that he’d hesitate to share with you. They’ll laugh at the same jokes, enjoy the same activities, accept new friends and talk about those they don’t like, listen to each other’s stories, and show concern and compassion.

     At times, include his friend in your family’s plans. This is easy if the friend lives nearby. But if he lives some distance away, as often happens when children attend private school away from the neighborhood, you’ll have to make an extra effort.

     Invite the friend to dinner, to sleep over, or to go with you on an outing. Even if you’re busy with errands, you can take him along to the grocery store or shopping center.

     Elementary-aged visitors are often easier to have around than preschoolers. They occupy themselves independently, make less noise, need less supervision, and make less of a mess. You’ll still have to deal with cleanups, of course, and there will be disagreements, although bickering between good friends is usually brief.

     You should monitor your child and his friend to be sure they’re playing safely. You also should make sure they don’t constantly exclude your other children. While friends need some privacy, they also need to know that siblings shouldn’t be shut out: “Your brother would like to help you build a snowman.”

     If a close friend moves away, your child will go through a difficult period. Although distant friends can stay in touch, the loss may be very hard. It will be difficult for you as you witness your child’s sadness and help him get through the separation. Let him know about the move ahead of time, suggest he give his friend a good-bye gift or card, and take a last picture of the friends together. Support him and listen as he talks about his unhappy feelings. You can encourage him to write or email his friend, and you can arrange periodic visits. However, he will gradually focus less and less on the friend who moved away. As he builds new friendships, he’ll remember his old friend primarily when reminded of the things they did together.

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