This chapter investigates friendships and children's wellbeing in the early years of schooling. Having a friend, and being a friend, is closely connected to children's health and wellbeing in the early years. Friendship safeguards children from social isolation and is associated with academic attainment and social success. In early childhood, children often make friends through play and other shared activities.
Through young children's direct accounts and visual representations about friendships, we explore characteristics of friendship and the strategies that children use to make friends and manage disputes as they negotiate their social and emotional relationships through play and shared spaces. Three aspects of friendships are evident in the children's accounts: friendship is enduring, friendship is a mutual relationship, and friendship involves an emotional investment. This chapter provides educators with an understanding of the important role of friendships in young children's everyday lives, and to their happiness and wellbeing in the early years.
Importance of Friendships in the Early Years
Children's friendships are accomplished in the social and educational spaces outside of family contexts, and include child care, preschool and school settings. These settings provide children with opportunities to interact with other children and offer opportunities to make friends.
Having a friend is associated with a child's success at school. Children with friends enjoy school more, and are happier to attend preschool and school (Buhs & Ladd, 2001). Friendships are particularly important when children attend their first year of school because children with friends tend to adjust more quickly and have more positive attitudes towards schooling (Dunn, Cutting & Fisher, 2002). When at preschool or school, children with friends join in with activities more often than those without friends (Tomada et al., 2005), and participation in class activities is associated with positive effects on children's achievement at school.
Friendships provide children with social and emotional support that is important for resilience in times of change, and feelings of happiness and wellbeing (Danby, 2008; Dunn, 2004). Friends offer strong supports that can reduce feelings of anxiety, confusion, angst and social isolation for children. In the early years, friendships facilitate positive outcomes for children and can reduce stress in times of change, such as transition to school (Dunn, 2004; Hartup, 1992).