We all need the comfort of friendship, it is human nature. Now there is new research conducted by William Bukowski, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, that describes the importance of friends, and best friends in particular, on the mind and body of children.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, was measured in children who were being disciplined by a teacher. When the child was alone, versus in the presence of a best friend, their cortisol levels were significantly higher. The study was conducted in Montreal using 55 boys and 48 girls in fifth and sixth grade. Earlier studies have shown the benefits of friendships on overall long-term development but this study actually described the immediate benefits of having a best friend for kids who may be undergoing an unpleasant experience.
Bukowski explains that increased stress in childhood, which means increased cortisol levels, can have profound physiological repercussions in later life. It can cause everything from decreased bone formation to autoimmune disorders. It is in those early years that we begin to develop our sense of self and these ideas typically remain with us for a lifetime.
Parents who are concerned about their children being socially isolated should look at the overall picture. The old saying, “If you can count your friends on one hand you are fortunate,” is really true. It is less important that many casual friends surround your child than it is for them to bond closely with one or two other children. It is those close bonds that help to increase self-confidence and self-esteem. This is a truth that extends throughout adulthood as well. Help your children learn to foster those special friendships early by teaching them what it means to be a good friend and how to recognize a true friend when they see one. These are skills that will serve them well throughout their lifetime.