Do kids really need a BFF?

How necessary is it to have a very best friend?
How necessary is it to have a very best friend? Photo: Getty Images

As a child, I was shy but social enough. I always had a small group of friends, but I preferred to socialise one-on-one.

During my youth, I lived in two different towns so meeting people and forming relationships was, somewhat, easy and long-lasting. But I've given my own child, an 11-year-old boy, a different life.

He's now living in his sixth town; all in different states and two different countries. He makes friends but just when things are going well, we move. Or they move. I guess nomads attract nomads so friendships are often fast and fleeting.

A couple months in to our new home, he befriended a neighbour's boy. They have a lot in common and my son calls the boy his 'best mate'. His other friends are kids he's met at the skatepark but they're more like acquaintances.

As an introvert, I don't socialise often so I haven't been the best role model and sometimes I regret not doing more for his social development. As he gets older, I feel like I don't have a lot in common with him. At 11, I was playing with Barbie dolls, reading or listening to Duran Duran, often on my own.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien, principal child psychologist at The Quirky Kid Clinic says boys are more apt to socialise in groups that revolve around play or sport.

"Boys` friendships are often based on common interests, such as a shared passion for sports. From the age of seven, boys often play in regular friendship groups rather than with one best friend. Boys are more likely to engage in physical play while girls are more likely to share secrets and express their emotions with friends," she says.

Dr O'Brien says weekly play dates at home are a great way for kids to develop social skills in a safe setting.

"You can observe the kids playing and give feedback about how to lead play or how to turn-take so they can have more successful play dates down the track," she says.

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And when it comes to play dates, Dr O'Brien suggests adding more children to the dates once your child has good one-on-one social skills.

"We talk about having a very best friend forever or BFF, but that's quite a lot of pressure to put on a young person so please consider having more than just one person over for play dates," she says.

Kellie Walker, a Sydney mum of five kids ranging from eight to 21 years old, says each child makes and maintains friendships in their own way.

"They all friend differently and with the ages being so diverse they're in different friend fazes of their lives. My only son, who is 12, is a quiet boy with a small circle of friends, while my 14-year-old daughter has a large, wider group of friends thanks to her gift as an elite athlete," Kellie says. 

Kellie says her daughters make friends easily and each could name two or three best friends but her son's yet to meet his BFF.

"My son doesn't have a best friend yet but I'm sure that will change as he gets more involved with sports and other interests. He's also more guarded than the girls, maybe more choosy about who he lets in," she says.

Kellie and her own best friend met when they were five years old. The relationship is so strong and positive that she wishes the same for her kids.

"I would love them all to have just one lifelong BFF but that doesn't mean they need only one friend," she says.

The Quirky Kid Clinic developed a 'Best of Friends' programme 12 years ago after noticing a rise in parental concern about children's inability to form close friendships. The 10-session workshop aims to improve social and emotional wellbeing in young people.

"The Best of Friends programme helps kids develop one-on-one social skills with greetings, to-and-fro conversation skills, learning how to approach a group and how to have two or more friends, which is slightly more challenging," Dr O'Brien says.

For now, my son is happy to socialise one-on-one. Like Kellie's boy, he's not an open book; he's fussy about who he befriends. And I think that's a good thing.

Social skills strategies to encourage friendship

  • Eye contact
  • Verbal greetings: hello, good morning...
  • Non-verbal greetings: smile, wave...
  • Offer: a seat, a drink...
  • Use manners
  • Be kind

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