For most human beings, friendships, whether transitory or long lasting, are hugely important and vital to well-being. The importance of friendship to children’s emotional health is well documented. Children who are isolated and have no friends, are at the highest risk of falling into depression in adolescence. Having one childhood friend (not necessarily a close one) is sufficient to ameliorate against a downward spiral.
However, navigating friendship is a tricky and sometimes painful experience. Most of us will have had some bad experiences at some point in childhood, whether it be the difficulty of making friends, anxiety about social interaction, the feeling of being excluded or rejected, the effort of making new friends in new places, falling out of friendship – and perhaps even guilt associated with excluding a child from a friendship group.
So taking time to help children nurture friendships is time well spent. In her popular blog for Psychology Today Dr Elieen Kennedy-Moore writes about the importance of growing friendships. She describes how children may need explicit help in order to understand the basic foundations of friendship: openness, common interest and shared fun. Openness, she explains includes acting kindly towards others and complimenting each other. A good basis for friendship is finding shared interests but children may initially be attracted by a charismatic personality, rather than finding someone with whom they have common ground. And finally Dr Kennedy-Moore stresses the importance of enjoyment or ‘shared fun’.
Stories provide excellent opportunities to talk with children about forming successful friendships and coping with problems when they arise. Our book of the week The Night the Stars Went Out by Suz Hughes is a reminder to all of us that friendships need to be nurtured.
On a planet far away in the universe Alien works hard all day polishing the stars:
‘Alien never took time off to do anything fun, and he didn’t have any friends.’
The one night something disastrous happens, the stars go out. To solve the problem, Alien decides he must collect some magic star varnish from planet Earth. He hurtles down a corkscrew stair case to Earth, where he discovers that Aliens float. It looks like an insurmountable problem until a boy with a balloon saves the day:
I’m George,” the boy replied, letting the balloon go and kindly tying Alien to the string so he wouldn’t float away. “
George helps Alien find the magic star varnish and then persuades his new friend not to rush back to his own planet but stay and play. And that’s when the real magic happens – the stars turn themselves on.
The joy in this story is that the ‘lesson’ speaks to both the adult and the child sharing the book. It is narrated with gentle humour complemented with bright, uplifting illustrations.