How Important Are Childhood Friends & Can They Stick Around?

Updated February 1, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Childhood friends can be crucial to the healthy development of a child. Just as they are for adults, friendships are important for children in that they can promote happy feelings and reduce stress, thereby acting as a positive influence on the child's overall well-being. This can be true no matter the age of the child, from toddlerhood through adolescence. In this article, we’ll be outlining the importance of childhood friends and exploring whether they can stick around into the later stages of life.  

Human Connection Can Be A Vital Aspect Of Positive Mental Health

Importance Of Childhood Friends In Pre-K

Children of pre-K age may make friends as early as 2 or 3 years old. However, children do not form true friendships until they are 4 or 5 years old. True friendships mean they trust each other, understand the importance of sharing with each other, and are considerate of each other's feelings. In pre-K, “friends” are more like playmates. 

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 can become a permanent character trait and even a potential crutch. Instead, parents can encourage their children to come out of their shells, which may be accomplished via a playdate.

Keeping playdates simple can be helpful, so consider having your child interact with just one other child at a time. Involving more than one playmate, especially if the children your child is trying to make friends with are of different ages, can be overwhelming and may cause your child to withdraw even further. If the situation becomes too overwhelming, you can try redirecting your child's attention to a toy or game that they can focus on. This may help reduce their stress and make them feel less pressured to socialize.

Importance Of Friends In Grade School

As children get older, it stands to reason that their relationships become more meaningful. According to a recent study, boys behave more appropriately in school if they have at least one close friend in kindergarten, compared to boys who do not make close friends until later in life.

Older children, around 6 or 7 years old, are typically more prone to come home and talk about fights with their childhood friends. This is because children tend to have their first arguments with their close friends around this age. Arguments at this age tend to be over feeling betrayed. For instance, one of your child’s friends may tell their secret to another friend, thereby violating the tender trust that had developed between them.

In many cases, parents don’t need to be concerned when their children start fighting with their friends. This is not necessarily a sign that their children are going to have behavioral problems down the road. Fighting between friends at this age can be a normal part of growing up. Parents can help their children resolve their conflicts by listening to their child's side of the story, introducing ways to solve the problem, and explaining the benefits of resolving conflict.

For instance, Bobby's mom can explain that what Joey did was wrong; Joey shouldn't have told Jimmy about Bobby's secret. However, this does not have to be the end of 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, then give Joey a chance to apologize. If Joey apologizes, then Bobby can be willing to accept Joey's apology and give Joey a chance to earn back Bobby's trust.

If, however, Joey doesn't apologize and instead puts up a defense, maybe Bobby needs to give Joey some time to cool off, as some people do not do well with confrontation. If Joey displays even worse behavior, like telling even more people about Bobby's secret, then as sad as it is, Bobby may want to move on and try to make a new friend who is more deserving of Bobby's time. Parents can explain these lessons to their children to carry throughout their lifetime. 

Importance Of Friends As Teens

For the majority of children, never are their friends as important and influential as when they become teenagers. Peer pressure can be prominent in this life stage, and kids may be faced with the choice of fitting in or doing what they feel is right. It can also be common for kids to rebel against their parents at this age, which can cause many parents to feel powerless. 

This being said, parents often have more of a say than they might realize. While teens are busy acting out and rebelling against the things their parents are trying to teach them, this can be partially a front to disguise the fact that they still want and need their parent's guidance. 

It may be difficult for parents not to say anything bad about a friend they are not pleased with, particularly if they see their own child being negatively influenced. However, the approach to these difficult conversations can make a difference. Parents may be able to retain their child’s trust by asking questions with curiosity instead of judgment and not jumping to conclusions. 

Gathering details about a teenager’s friend can be important when assessing who might or might not be a positive influence on 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, but it can still be important for parents to be there for them during these vital years. Parents who support their child’s friendships may also find that their teen trusts them more and comes to them for advice. Plus, parents who allow their children to have friends over might discover that there are few better ways to keep an eye on what they’re up to. 

Human Connection Can Be A Vital Aspect Of Positive Mental Health

Can Childhood Friendships Last Forever?

A childhood friendship can last forever, in much the same way that any relationship can. If possible, it may be comforting to hold onto your childhood friends even into adulthood. For one thing, they may know more about you than most people you will ever meet in your life—simply because of how much history you two have. For another, you’ll develop a bond that centers on where you grew up together. You both can reminisce about the sights, smells, and sounds of your childhood that you experienced because you grew up in the same place. What can also be encouraging about a childhood friendship that lasts into adulthood is that this friendship stands the test of time. Friends come and go, but this one remains. This can be a source of comfort during difficult times, a consistent safe place to fall back on, and a reminder that you are cared for. 

Growing Apart

Sometimes friends simply grow apart. Maybe their interests change, they mature, or they move away. There can be 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, similarly, looking for excuses not to hang out with them. If you feel awkward around your friend, or if being around them makes you feel anxious, these can be clear indicators that the friendship is no longer what it used to be, and that it's time to move on.

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

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, reach out right away to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

Without having to leave your home, you can connect with a therapist who can help guide you through childhood friendships as well as your current adult relationships. With BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, you don’t need to worry about waiting in a crowded room or sitting in traffic on the way to an office. Rather, you can choose to connect through a variety of means including phone calls, video chats, or in-app messaging. This can make accessing mental health care both easy and convenient. BetterHelp’s qualified counselors can assist you whether you’re looking to reconnect with estranged friends or make new ones. 

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling 

Studies show that online therapy is a useful alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy when helping people address relationship issues. A study performed by Cambridge University assessed the benefits of cognitive-behavioral online therapy (CBT) in treating symptoms of depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a widely used method for helping people realign negative thoughts and behaviors. This type of reframing can help people struggling with anger, anxiety, rejection, and more to navigate their current relationships, or revive old ones. Researchers note that depressive symptoms were significantly decreased in those who participated in the internet-delivered CBT program.

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The Takeaway

Friendships play a vital role in our lives as humans. The connections we make with other people help us grow and can offer 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. Sometimes, getting past hurts and rejections off your chest can allow you to be more open to meeting new people. Speaking with a licensed online therapist can help you heal and look forward to the friendships that are still ahead of you.

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