First Lessons in Friendship
As a mother to both a son and daughter, I’m amazed at the many differences between them—their personalities, interests, and even their relationships with friends. The last one shouldn’t surprise me though. My childhood memories of friendship include sleepovers, secrets, and spats with girlfriends. My husband’s clearest memories are of playing wiffle ball in the backyard, Friday night football games, and hiding out in his tree fort with the boys from the neighborhood.
“Boys and girls may define what constitutes a close friend differently,” says Dr. Thomas S. Jensen, MD, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist. “Particularly as they grow older, girls are more likely to define a close friend as someone who will listen and understand, as well as share secrets and emotions with them. Boys are more likely to define a close friend as someone who spends time with them, takes their side in situations of potential conflict, and shares similar interests. For boys, emotional intimacy often has less importance in defining a close relationship than loyalty during times of conflict.”
Parents have a big influence on their children’s lives, including laying the groundwork for future relationships. “Attachments are formed by 24 months with a child’s parents or primary caregiver,” says Dr. Michael Handwerk, PhD, director, Clinical Services, Research and Internship Training, Girls and Boys Town, Omaha, Nebraska.
The presence of siblings can also influence a child’s friendships. Whether these relationships are positive or negative, the way in which a child copes with brothers and sisters can have an impact on his friendships as he grows. Some children may be so lucky as to find a best friend living under the same roof. Mary Beth LaRosa, from Granby, Connecticut, and the mother of three boys, says, “I am so fortunate to have sons that play incredibly well together.” After a day at kindergarten, her oldest son came home with a drawing of his best friend, which happened to be his younger brother.