Wednesday, October 26, 2005

All about friends

I read an interesting article about children and friendships last night. Apparently, between ages 6 and about 12, kids pass through a series of stages in which their concepts of friendship, and their expectations of a friend, slowly change and grow more complex. The stages are:

Stage 1: "Play partner": In the earliest stage of friendship, the relationship is based on "play-partnership". A friend is seen as someone who engages the child in play and permits the child to use or borrow her playthings.

Stage 2: "People to chat to": The sharing of interests becomes an important element in friendship choice. Conversations between "friends" are no longer related simply to the game or activity in which the children are directly engaged.

Stage 3: "Help and encouragement": At this stage the friend is seen as someone who will offer help, support or encouragement. However, the advantages of friendship flow in one direction; the child does not yet see himself as having the obligation to provide help or support in return.

Stage 4: "Intimacy/empathy": The child now realises that in friendship the need and obligation to give comfort and support flows both ways and, indeed, the giving of affection, as well as receiving it, becomes an important element in the relationship. This stage sees a deepening of intimacy; an emotional sharing and bonding.

Stage 5: At this stage friendship is perceived as a deep and lasting relationship of trust, fidelity and unconditional acceptance.

After reading this, I was curious about what stage G was in, so this evening I asked her some questions about friends and friendship. Here's what she said.

Q. What makes someone your friend?
A. If you're nice to each other and say nice words and make each other happy when you're sad.

Q. What do you want a friend to do with you?
A. Play together and have sleepovers.

Q. How would you make friends with someone?
A. Well, I could introduce myself if they're new in my class. And then they would introduce themselves to me. And then blah, blah, blah and all that other stuff. [I assume she meant that she and the other kid would talk at this point.]

Q. Do you have a best friend?
A. Yes.

Q. Who is it?
A. Tabitha.

Q. Why is Tabitha your best friend?
A. Because we've been friends ever since we were toddlers.

It sounds as if she's combining elements from several of the stages: she thinks that friends play together (stage 1), but also talk about things that interest them (stage 2) and support each other emotionally (stages 3 and 4). Based on the way I've seen her actually interact with her friends, I'd say she's around stage 2 with some stage 3 mixed in. She loves to chat, and it can be funny to listen to at times. For instance, a few weeks ago, she and her friend from next door were out riding bikes, and when they stopped to sit down and rest, they had a conversation that was basically the kid version of adult dinner-table talk:

He: How was your day at school?
She: It was good; how was yours?
He: It was good too.


She: So, what are you going to be for Halloween?
He: I'm going to be a Power Ranger.
She: Oh! I'm going to be Juliet, you know, like in Romeo and Juliet.
He: That's nice.

And so forth. They might as well have been married. :-)

One thing that's really neat about G is her willingness to play anything with anyone. She loves to dress up and put on fashion shows and play dolls with other girls, but she plays with boys just as easily; two of her good friends are boys, and she talks about playing superheroes and spies with the boys in her class at recess. I think being with her father so much has helped her learn how to relate to boys: she knows how to play the sorts of games they like because that's what her dad plays with her. She can switch from being a squealing girly girl to pretending that her bike is a police car in two seconds flat. All that may change in a year or two, when she reaches the inevitable "boys are gross" stage, but for now it's wonderful to see.

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