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You Gotta Have Friends

Does it seem like your child wants to be with his friends all the time? "This is a very social age," says Linda Braun, Executive Director of the Families First Parenting Program in Cambridge, MA, and lecturer in Family Studies at Wheelock College Graduate School in Boston. "Every child needs to have at least one secure friend." By the age of 7, friendship needs are largely gender-based. "Girls are happy playing with just one friend at a time, while boys prefer larger groups," Braun explains. Both enjoy activity-based interactions, like trading cards or stickers, playing on the computer, or doing arts-and-crafts.

How can you help your child's friendships along? At this age, you should arrange playdates together with your child  -- he should be involved in the planning, and learning how to pick up the phone to invite a friend.


While it's very important that parents know with whom their children are playing, by this age kids should be selecting their own friends and coming up with their own activities. "My son, Jon, chooses different friends for different reasons," says Jennifer Drake of Lynn, MA. "He has one friend for imaginative play, one for board games, one for Lego, and one all-around athlete friend." At this age, experts say, friendships tend to be based on common interests rather than on character traits because elementary-age children are too young to understand each other's personalities. Parents should never force a child to say or do things to win a friend, Braun warns.


When disagreements arise, kids may need a mediator to help them work things out. "If parents are going to intervene in this arena, they should work with their own child (rather than with the friend)," says Braun. "Help your child to acknowledge her own feelings; then practice how she will address her friends and the issues dividing them." Molly McCormick of McLean, VA, says she often needs to urge her 9-year-old daughter, Mary Alice, to apologize for causing hurt feelings or to express to a friend how pained she is by a slight. Encouraging their child's friendships can be rewarding for parents, too. "I love when my children have friends over," says McCormick. "Our house is just filled with energy."