The early years of childhood are a crucial time for social development. Children start to explore the world beyond their family, forming bonds with peers that can last a lifetime. We have seen Covid-19 kids who are facing loneliness and parents who are putting in extra effort to build their social skills. This article will explore the importance of building healthy peer relationships in early childhood embracing unhealthy and challenging situations.
Here we discuss the significance of social interactions and friendships in a child’s early years. We will also explore how as parents, teachers, and guides we can lay a strong foundation for children to grow into socially competent and emotionally intelligent individuals.
1. Healthy Peer Relationships: Significance
Peer relationships in early childhood are important for social development, emotional growth, mental health, and relationships with themselves. It’s only when kids start to interact with their peers, they get to know themselves. They get to learn about a plethora of emotions, practice of sharing, team spirit and the art of negotiation. Not only does it develop their coping mechanism, but they learn about boundaries and learn to deal with situations. These interactions are essential in developing necessary social skills for life.
In the early years we either teach them to trust the peer group or we teach them to act out of fear.
We either teach them to please their friends or to politely say a No and take a No.
As parents and caregivers, our duty is to provide them a safe circle. In the ideal world, we want the circle to see them, hear them and make them feel safe. But is it possible? How do we teach our kids to trust their gut/energy? We will learn more about this in the article.
2. Inculcating values!
Kids learn from us. It is important for us to stay firm yet trust their choice of their friendships when they are toddlers.
It is easy to use the heavy jargon like compassion, kindness, empathy, team spirit, humility, politeness, trust, respect.. But how do we inculcate these values?
Before we go ahead with how peer groups make and break their personality and tips to raise them in awareness. We have to first accept that our children will make mistakes and that’s alright. They will get angry, they will throw a fit, they will not want to share, they will get bullied, they might bully, they might hurt someone’s feelings or be at the receiving end.
3. Healthy Peer Relationships: Tips!
a. As a parent or caregiver, it’s important to remind ourselves to be patient, avoid overreacting, and address strong emotions like a visitor who deserves attention and understanding.
Big feelings knock on the door, because there is this unmet desire to be seen and heard. Our kids who are as new as 3-7 years old in this life don’t know how to communicate their big feelings. So their brain confuses them and if we don’t act out of awareness, we confuse them a little more.
Now when they make their first friend, best friend, or a close group. That’s out of their instinct and liking. When you trust their choice of friendship and take steps to build it stronger, create a space where they know each other better. You have provided your child a safe space to grow their bond as well as you have sent them the message of TRUST. When you trust their choice, they trust their instincts. Your kid will automatically choose what’s right for him/her. They might withdraw when they feel comfortable, they might get engaged when they resolve their issues.
On the other hand, when we control their choices, they stop trusting themselves and attract the wrong peers in their lives. They will look out for you to help them make decisions for them all the time.
b. A peer group can teach them more about themselves, resolving conflict, and trusting their gut.
When they see their friends in pain, they show care, they show empathy and that’s only possible when they have been practicing at home. There are chances that the child might not show empathy and that must not put him in a bad light. Some kids are disconnected from themselves. When you teach your kids to be polite to them instead of judging these kids, you teach them kindness. You teach them empathy. You teach your child to not differentiate, bully or boycott some friends because they are disconnected from themselves.
c. When you listen to your child keeping everything aside, they keep everything aside and listen to their friends. In homes when kids are not heard but teachers give them that safe space, they reflect the same. This enables children to connect with their peers and build lasting relationships.
d. It is important for kids to have different sets of friends. Park friends, playgroup friends, school friends, theatre friends. Play skills enhance their social skills. They learn to move out of their comfort zones. The characters they play in drama class and different sets of friends help them open up their hearts, minds, and visual senses. These kids grow up to be more flexible. They learn from each other and grow from observing.
e. Peer groups at school play the most important role because these friendships stay for life. They learn new passions, hobbies, and subjects and most of the time they pick up passions from each other. They also feel the pressure. It’s important for parents to connect with the peer groups parents and stay involved.
f. Having friends across the globe teaches a child to agree to disagree and still be friends. It also teaches them to respect all cultures. It’s important for parents to travel and in early years encourage kids to stay connected via letters and mails. It teaches kids about diversity and will also teach them to bid bye to a friend and make new friends everywhere. Not only will this build a child’s confidence. He /she will have a listening ear and support system outside the city which also helps broaden the child’s vision.
g. Children along with parents must also have a spiritual peer group. Not only does it help to build the coping mechanism but the children will encourage each other to look within when they are in their lowest days. The children also learn to respect instead of bullying the peer group.
(children must be made aware of their innermost circle and to go support groups after their parents.)
h. When the peer group is strong, positive and shares the same values. Kids can grow up to be more active outside the screen. They can together build a safe society along with their respective jobs and businesses.
i. School plays an integral role in building and fostering the peer group by involving parents in joint activities at school. The Mental health of a child must be every school’s priority making sure a child excels in what they are good at. Bullying, shaming, team spirit, communication, the tone of everything starts at home but a lot depends on school as well.
j. With peer group and joint activities, a child learns to take responsibility for their actions. But wise adults and caregivers can make that possible.
k. Building resilience is not a day’s job, it’s these early years practices that make them who they become.
Every child is unique and when they make friends and participate in different activities, they value the uniqueness in everyone else too. As parents, our job is to live in awareness and relearn every day! They will fall, make mistakes, cry, and have big feelings and that’s okay! It’s important for them to see us involved in their lives, see them, hear them, and be there for them in their growing-up years and know the difference between control and involvement.