The way parents respond to their children’s wants and needs can play a critical role in the way they learn to form strong friendships, according to a new Florida State University study.
Bethany Blair, an assistant professor of family and child sciences at FSU, found that parents who responded to their children in a warm and supportive way had children who demonstrated strong cooperative skills. These same children were also able to build strong friendships.
“We know that friendships meet a lot of needs for kids in terms of who they are, how to disclose information and develop cooperation skills,” Blair said. “I’m interested in figuring out what creates a good environment for good, quality friendships.”
The research, co-authored with Nicole Perry from University of Minnesota, is published in the journal Social Development.
The study used data from a national survey of 1,000 families over the course of 15 years, starting when the kids were between third and sixth grade.
In the survey, researchers observed families playing competitive games such as Jenga and how they resolved conflicts. They also observed the children playing with their friends and interviewed them about those friendships to get their perspective.
“Having this positive relationship with your child can help them develop important skills that can transfer to other relationships,” Blair said.
Blair noted that most studies look specifically at the role of the mother in childhood development, but this study examined the role of both parents.
“Mothers and fathers have equal contributions to friendships,” she said. “Dads have a really important role to play.”
Blair plans to follow up on this study with additional work looking at the different ways developing the skill of cooperation can translate to other areas of life.