How Important Are Childhood Friends, And Can They Stick Around?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Childhood friends can be crucial to the healthy development of a child. As these relationships can be for adults, friendships are crucial for children, as they promote happiness and reduce stress, positively influencing the child's well-being. 

The positive impacts of friendship can impact any child, from toddlerhood through adolescence. However, some may wonder how meaningful these friendships are and whether they can last through adulthood, developing into lifelong friendships. To understand the answer to this question, looking at how children make friendships, why friendships might last, and what happens when they don’t may be helpful.

Human connection can be a vital aspect of positive mental health

The importance of childhood friends in pre-K

Children in the pre-kindergarten (pre-K) age group may make friends as early as two or three years old. However, experts state that children do not form true friendships until they are four or five. True friendships often involve trust, understanding, giving, and consideration of each other's feelings. In pre-K, "friends" are often playmates in the same class in preschool. 

Some children may have difficulty making friends at this stage and feel nervous or hesitant to engage with other children. In these situations, parents may choose to avoid labeling their child's behavior as "shy," as this label can become a permanent character trait. Instead, caregivers can encourage their children to socialize, which may be facilitated through frequent playdates. 

Keeping playdates simple can be helpful. Consider having your child interact with one other child at a time. Involving more than one playmate, especially if the children are of different ages, can be overwhelming and may cause your child to withdraw. If the situation becomes too overwhelming, you can try redirecting your child's attention to a toy or game to focus on. 

The importance of childhood friendship in grade school

As children age, their relationships often become more meaningful. According to a recent study, boys behave more appropriately in school if they have at least one close friend in kindergarten than boys who do not make close friends until later in life. 

Older children of six or seven may begin to find best friends or bond more closely with a special friend they made when they were younger in preschool. This can be a huge part of how they develop during this period of their lives. 

At this age, children are typically more prone to come home and talk about arguments with their childhood friends. At this age, children tend to have their first arguments and disagreements. Arguments at this age may be due to feeling betrayed. For instance, one of your child's friends may tell their secret to another friend, violating the trust between them.

Parents may not need to be concerned when their children start having disagreements with their friends. This behavior is not necessarily a sign that their children will have personality challenges later. Arguments between friends at this age can be a regular part of growing up. Parents can help their children resolve their conflicts by listening to their children's side of the story, introducing ways to solve the problem, and explaining that their friendship matters more than a disagreement or argument.

For instance, Bobby's mom can explain that what Joey did was wrong and Joey shouldn't have told Jimmy about Bobby's secret. However, this situation does not have to end Bobby and Joey's friendship. Bobby can approach Joey and tell them that what they did was wrong and that they hurt Bobby with their actions, giving Joey a chance to apologize. If Joey apologizes, Bobby can be willing to accept Joey's apology and give Joey a chance to earn back their trust. 

However, if Joey doesn't apologize and puts up a defense, Bobby might give Joey time to calm down, as some children can struggle with confrontation. If Joey displays worse behavior, like telling more people about Bobby's secret, Bobby may want to move on and try to make a new friend. Parents can explain these lessons to their children to carry throughout their lifetime. 

The importance of friends as teens

For some children, friendships become most important and influential during the teen years in middle school and high school. Peer pressure can be prominent in this life stage, and kids may be faced with the choice of fitting in or doing what they believe is right. It can also be common for adolescents to rebel against their parents, which may mean they choose unhealthy friendships or partake in behaviors they were told not to. 

It may be difficult for parents and families not to make comments about a friend or buddy they are not pleased with, particularly if they see their child being negatively influenced. However, the approach to these difficult conversations can make a difference. Parents may retain their child's trust by asking questions with curiosity instead of judgment and not jumping to conclusions during the conversation. 

Gathering details about a teenager's friend can be important when assessing who might or might not positively influence them. If a parent's fears or concerns are justified, they can sit their teen down and explain how going along with their friend's bad decisions, such as underage drinking or promiscuity, can directly affect them, too.

Teenagers may seem independent and uncaring. However, they are still developing and require secure attachments with their caregivers. Parents who support their child's friendships may also find that their teen trusts them more and comes to them for advice. Additionally, parents who allow their children to have friends visit might discover they can better monitor their child's behavior from home.  

Can childhood friendships last forever?

A childhood friendship can last a lifetime in the same way other relationships can for most people. If possible, it may be comforting to hold onto your childhood friends into adulthood or for your whole life, decades after your time spent together in school. They may know more about you than others because of your history. In addition, you may develop a bond with real friends that centers on where you grew up together. You can reminisce about the sights, smells, and sounds of your childhood that you experienced because you grew up in the same place, even if it was long ago.

What can also be encouraging about a childhood friendship that lasts into adulthood is that this friendship stands the test of time. Great friends come and go. A long-term friendship can be a unique comfort source during difficult times. It may remind you of your childhood and your more innocent friendship in those times. 

Whether you had healthy friendships as a child may also impact your adult life. One study found that individuals with at least one close friend in childhood were less likely to experience mental illness and other psychological challenges as adults. 

What happens when you grow apart from old friends from childhood? 

In some cases, childhood friends grow apart. Their interests may change, they could mature, or they might move away. There are often a host of reasons why friends no longer speak. In some cases, people change for the worse, and it can be the healthiest decision to distance yourself from them. For instance, if a friend becomes verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive, the friendship may no longer be healthy.

Other red flags that can signal the end of your relationship include the desire to ignore your friend's phone calls or look for excuses not to hang out with them. If you are awkward around your friend or being around them makes you anxious, these feelings can indicate that the friendship is no longer healthy. 

Not all childhood friendships last, but some will. It may depend on the amount of effort each friend is willing to put into the relationship and other factors, like distance or current relationships. Whether the friendship sticks around or ends, it can be vital to form healthy and fulfilling relationships at every stage of life. 

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Human connection can be a vital aspect of positive mental health

Support options 

It can be challenging to cope with the loss of a childhood friend or attempt to support your children as they navigate the childhood social world. If you're unsure where to turn, consider contacting a therapist. 

Some people may face barriers to receiving traditional therapeutic support. In these cases, you may benefit from talking to a therapist through an online platform like BetterHelp. On an online platform, you can connect via various means, including phone, video, or live chat messaging. This format may make seeking mental health care more effective and convenient. 

Studies show online therapy is a valuable alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy when addressing relationship difficulties. A study performed by Cambridge University assessed the benefits of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating symptoms of depression. Researchers noted that depressive symptoms were significantly decreased in those who participated in the internet-delivered program, with results similar to in-person studies. 

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Friendships often play a vital role in human development. Connecting with others can help you grow and find encouragement in times of need. If you're missing a childhood friend or longing for the types of friendships you had as a kid, know that those connections are still possible as an adult. 

In some cases, moving past hurt and rejection can allow you to be more open to meeting new people. Speaking with a licensed therapist can help you look forward to the friendships that are still ahead of you. Consider reaching out to a provider online or in your area to get started.

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