When a child starts in daycare, it means they start to have their own little social circle. “Friends” is a particularly important thing for children, because in developing friendships, children are also finding their place in the world. Understanding the developmental changes in a child’s friendships can help us understand their social behaviour and allow us to help them cope with social challenges in a more effective way.


Psychologist Robert Selman proposes five stages of childhood friendship.

Stage 1: 3-6 years. At this point, a “friend” is like a “temporary playmate”. At this stage, the child thinks that whoever he plays with is a friend and is not a friend if he plays separately; he thinks that others are rightfully in agreement with him, and he gets angry [frantic] when he finds that his playmate has a different opinion.


Stage 2: 5-9 years. At this point, a “friend” is “someone who can help” and the child will not yet consider what he or she can do for the other person. At this stage, the child will care about friendship as long as he has a friend, even if the other person is not actually friendly; he will also use friendship as a bargaining chip, such as “If you do this, I will be your friend”  or “If you do that, I will not be your friend”.


Stage 3: 6-12 years. At this point, “friends” are more like “small groups” and children begin to think about their friends on the basis of their own ideas. At this stage, children like to form small groups in groups and set “strict” rules about who can or cannot be in the group; they care about fairness and if they help each other this time, they expect the other to help themselves next time, otherwise the ship of friendship will capsize .

Stage 4: 8-15 years. At this point, “friends” are more like “conjoined infants”, and children begin to learn to genuinely care for each other, to be able to compromise and help each other, but not to be calculating. At this stage, friends will confide in each other privately and want the two of them to be together no matter what they do, and if one of them has other friends, the other will feel deeply betrayed (much like a sudden loss from hot love ).

Stage 5: From the age of 12 onwards, “mature friendships” begin to value emotional intimacy between friends, emphasizing understanding and support, and no longer have a strong possessive nature. At this stage, friends who have other friends do not feel threatened and are able to stay relatively close to each other even if they are separated for long periods of time

Being liked, having a sense of belonging, and being able to fit in can be valuable nourishment for the child, allowing the child to develop a positive self-perception, increase self-esteem and confidence levels, and thus be more independent in taking steps to explore.


So What do you do when your child faces social problems?

At this point, the most powerless thing about being a parent is hearing your child come back and say, “Mom, I don’t have any friends, they don’t even take me to play. It seems that making friends can only be done by the child alone, but there is actually a lot we can do to help the child.


Stabilize yourself.

A phrase I have shared with you over and over again, and one that I keep reminding myself of, is that “parents are the vessels of their children”. What is a child’s sense of security? He can still have the confidence that “the sky is falling” and that “parents can help me”.

When the child comes to us for help, social frustration is like “the sky is falling” for the child, if the parent is more anxious than the child, jump up, “Who won’t take you to play, mommy go to them”; or fear that the child’s socialization is poor, the first thing to do is to educate the child, “Have you found the reason from yourself, why they don’t take you to play?”

This instability directly affects the child, further deepening his or her social frustration, and in serious cases, he or she will have a “victim” mentality and label himself or herself: I am unlikable, I am a failure, I am incompetent.


Defining the problem


In the face of such problems, we need to distinguish between general social conflict or implicit bullying, which have a different impact on the child, and the way we deal with them is worlds apart. The first step in defining the problem is therefore critical.

So how does one tell the difference? I guess many of our friends are a little confused themselves, or is that the confusion we often have, when to be more atmospheric? When does one need to be a firm voice for oneself?

It’s very simple, ordinary social conflict is “right”, meaning that if we change one thing, the same group of kids will continue to play with our kids, while implicit bullying is “right”, no matter what the scenario, everyone is targeting the kid himself.

Then today let’s start with the common social conflict, after all this is the majority of situations and how we parents can guide our children.



Switching perspectives

Most children lack the ability to “switch perspectives”, for example, when their blocks fall down, they will certainly be sad, but many children cry for a long time, and some children can even cry themselves up, in fact, because they do not understand, and put it back up again.

When a child says to us, “I don’t have any friends, they don’t want me to play”, it may be just one thing, but in the present moment, he cares about it, and he doesn’t have the ability to “change his perspective”, so he characterizes it as one thing or another, even as an evaluation of himself.

So how parents respond to their children is crucial, when faced with such words from our children, we need to hit the pause button for ourselves in time, not to immediately give our children solutions, share our views, but to understand the situation with open-ended questions, “What is happening, can you tell mom?”


Try to get the child to give a general idea of what’s going on and then lead the child to think, “It sounds like Ming doesn’t want to play with you, but do you have other friends?” Try to help the child recall good bits of his play with other children (note that today we are talking about general social conflict, i.e. only a single incident where the child is ostracized, not always)

Conversations like this help the child to open his eyes to the fact that it turns out that not all people don’t play with him and that he has friends. Adults sometimes get stuck in this rut and don’t realize it, let alone children.

It is through this that we parents need the ability to shift perspectives, to distinguish between “people” and “things” from a young age, between “single events” and “repeated events”, which is a lifelong benefit.


Analysis of the situation

One of the benefits of this “change of perspective” is that it gives the child the power to feel “not so bad” and when the sense of power comes back, the next step is to analyze the situation with the child, “So why didn’t Ming take you out this time?” This question is to guide the child to think differently.


People are prone to “self-centeredness” and problems are basically “all their fault”. The person who can look at the whole thing out of his or her ego has a bigger picture, which is cultivated from these dots. That’s when how parents see things matters, and we need to be impartial and objective about things.


If it is indeed the problem of one’s own children, instead of covering it up, but also suppressing and scolding it, the “problem” is turned into a programme of action to “make oneself better”. One can then try to imagine with the child how we can do better if we encounter this situation again next.


If your own child isn’t actually doing anything wrong, then try to help the child understand others, even if it’s just telling the child, “Just because everyone wants to be alone for a while in the day, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be friends with you. You can try it again tomorrow” and it will also help the child.


We can then extend the question to “what are the good behaviors that will make friends enjoy playing with me more”, again turning the question itself to how to “make yourself better”.


So what if it still doesn’t work?


Many of you may have questions when you see this, but what about those action plans that were discussed with the child and the child practiced them, but did not win back the heart of the child who did not play with him?

It’s actually quite normal to think that our adult world doesn’t win everyone over. Little Tommy once had a “breakup” of a friendship, and I was sad with her. When she was emotionally stable, I said to her.

“You and Emily apologized, but she didn’t accept it. Mistakes are made, like broken glasses, and sometimes we can fix them, and sometimes we just have to throw them away, or put them aside for the time being, and maybe one day they’ll be fixed again. But no matter what, as long as we can continue to do good things, we ourselves will get better and better and we will have more and more friends.”

I’m not really sure that little Tommy, who is over 4 years old, really understands it all, but I believe that my presence and these words can help her feel the power of “being supported”.

At the same time, I hope to plant a seed in her psyche that everything should be searched inward, that is, be yourself, do what you have to do, and that it is beyond our control to change others.

Parents should not just be “firefighters”, and even less should they be “troublemakers” of their children’s problems. We should be the first wisdom mentors in a child’s life, elevating every problem a child encounters to a life-long level of interpretation.


This is when we should know that we should not only be concerned with solving problems, but also with teaching our children the ability to understand the world, so that whatever problems they encounter in the future, they can use this understanding to solve themselves.


Ultimately, the three perspectives are the foundation of how to interpret the world, and it takes us parents to pass that on.