The British International School Abu Dhabi School Counsellor Sara writes about the importance of friendships.
Since I began working in schools, I made a point to ask students every year what their favourite part of school was. I was curious about what got them motivated to start their day each morning and what they valued the most about their education. Every year, I got the same answer; ‘my friends.’ It didn’t matter what year they were in, or if they were particularly social or not. It didn’t matter if they were academically high achievers or not. While some answered “PE” or “break time,” most students’ answers had a common theme – they valued connection with their peers. That was where the real fun was at, and subjects that allowed for the most connections were the students’ favourite.
This didn’t come as a surprise. Interestingly, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert said in an interview that “If I had to summarise all the scientific literature on the causes of human happiness in one word, that word would be ‘social.'” (Harvard Business Review, 2012).
Importance of Friendship
Friendships are extremely important for a child’s development. They can provide:
• A sense of belonging.
• Having time to play freely, which can help younger children develop imagination.
• Interaction with other children which teaches important life skills such as problem solving, leadership skills, and managing conflict.
How can we promote friendships between children while social distancing?
While we continue to navigate our way through this novel time, it is important to consider its implications on our social health. With everyone taking appropriate precautions to keep their family safe, socialising can easily become an afterthought. This can result in children feeling isolated and lonely.
Here are a few ways you can promote being social while socially distancing:
• Be creative online
Children do not make friends by staring at a screen, try to think of more creative activities online. Some children play video games but there are many other activities online that can be played. Please see the link at the bottom of this article for some useful resources.
• Acts of Kindness
Encourage your child to surprise their friend with a gift or a gesture such as writing a letter or baking them a cake. Gestures such as this can be delivered at a safe distance. This can encourage your child to be creative without the use of technology and in turn reduce screen time.
• Meeting up at a distance
There are so many activities that can be done while still socially distancing such as cycling, kayaking and horseback riding. Anything that can be done at 1.5 metre distance can be enjoyed in company. Be sure to wear a mask and use hand sanitiser regularly.
• Fun family Activities
We are mindful that not everyone will feel comfortable meeting up at a distance. This is perfectly understandable; try to have fun as a family/ household. Take walks, bake, cook, play board games, picnic in your garden, or plan a scavenger hunt.
Connecting with others is an important aspect of mental health, for you and your children. Doing some of the suggested activities can help with the development and maintenance of friendships and social skills even with the current limitations.
Please feel free to reach out to your school’s counselling team, they are there to support you.
Here are some useful links with some more information:
• The Science Behind the Smile
• Helping Lonely Children During the Coronavirus Pandemic
• Growing Friendships During the Coronavirus Pandemic
• School-age friendships: how to support them