A Look at Friendship Through the Years

Experts agree and research supports that having healthy friendships enriches life adding happiness and life expectancy. As those who have had friendships that have spanned decades can attest, it is clear that friendships change as we age. The friendships you have in kindergarten look very different from your friendships in elementary school, high school, and adulthood. Understanding how friendships evolve as your child grows with each developmental stage, can help parents foster positive parent child relations – creating for your child a template for lifelong healthy friendships.


From 0-12 months, it is easy to see and understand that friendship is not on a baby’s radar. Parents are busy responding to their baby’s needs causing their baby’s inner well-being to flourish. The bond that is nurtured during the first year of life not only sets the foundation of self-esteem and self-worth, but it also establishes the kind of relationships your baby will seek out as they grow.


From 12 to 36 months old, parents and caregivers are still firmly at the center of a toddler’s universe, with little to no interest in friendship. At this time toddlers are demonstrating their “all powerful self” - a temporary developmental stage where toddlers have “an unswerving determination and absolute conviction that they are so powerful they can do and have anything.” Because of this conviction the give-and-take of friendship is unappealing to toddlers. This is demonstrated in the commonly misunderstood behavior surrounding sharing. Toddlers rarely, if ever, happily share their toys nor their parent’s affection or attention. So a parent’s genuinely altruistic motive to raise a thoughtful and caring person can often backfire as toddlers misinterpret their parent’s responses to sharing as a negative reflection of who they are.

“When children are made to share [they] become increasingly driven to soothe themselves with possessions, or they will become fearful about expressing their desires. In contrast, [children] who are never made to give up a toy they don’t want to share will become generous, caring friends sometime between the ages of three and four. By the time he is four, friendships with other children will be more important to your child than any particular possession. Your child will choose to share and not grab because he will emulate your kindness to him, and because he will increasingly realize that by being generous he will have more friends and more fun.”*

Young Childhood

As children grow out of toddlerhood, between the ages of three and six years, their interest in developing friendships begins. Parents and caregivers continue to be most important, but young children grow more aware of the happiness they feel when interacting with other children. They will delight in pretend play and engage in complex imaginary worlds with their friends. However, because “the inner well-being of young children still depends on having things go as they wish, their desires and those of their friends will sometimes clash, and occasional tears and discontent are inevitable.” At this stage it is not uncommon for parents to hear 'I’m not your friend anymore!' during play dates. As young children begin to learn that others have different ideas, likes and dislikes than their own, it is important to help your child learn constructive ways to handle the ups and downs of friendship. This can be achieved by being sympathetic to your child when they become upset. Acknowledge and reflect their feelings, so that they feel understood. This caring approach builds the resilience needed when things don’t go their way. Forcing children to get-along only makes children feel isolated and, ironically, less likely to get-along.

“If your daughter is upset because her friend has snapped at her, do acknowledge it is painful when someone we care about is cross with us. At the same time, encourage her not to take her friends irritability so personally. Suggest that she think about whether the friend had a bad day, or has been in a bad mood generally. If your daughter has made her friend cry, ask if she thinks she might be taking out a bad mood or a bad day on her friend. It will be invaluable for her to learn that when she is grumpy she may feel irritable with e