A child’s relationships with other children fall into broad stages. But it is very important for parents to remember that these categories are generalisations only; some children move through these stages at quite a different pace.
Up to 12 months
Your child’s most important relationships are with his mother, father and primary caregivers. Warm, reliable and enjoyable attachment to these adults helps create a template for the quality of a child’s later relationships with others. Babies are interested and will admire other babies, simply because they are like them, regardless of whether the baby is a boy or a girl.
Friendship choices begin to emerge. Children begin to demonstrate distinct preferences for specific children. Around age two, they begin to gravitate primarily toward members of their own gender.
As children socialise more, they show increasingly strong preferences for same-sex peers, especially when left to their own devices and allowed to choose their own playmates.
Children are now acutely aware of gender differences, which is partly explained by the influence of early sex hormones (the presence of testosterone may explain boy’s aggression). As different styles of play emerge, it becomes clear why children choose to play with someone whose idea of play is similar to their own.
Children increasingly see playmates as potential friends and are more able to play collaboratively. The give-and-take involved in play is a major milestone for both boys and girls.
At this stage, children are likely to form an intense attachment to a friend of the same gender – a ‘best friend’. Child psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan calls this kind of attachment ‘chumship’, a close, intimate mutual relation with a same gender peer. And what do they think about? Some of their conversation is likely to be speculation about the other gender, laying the groundwork for early adolescence when girls and boys become attractive to each other in a whole new way.
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