If the only tool children have is a hammer, everything is going to look like a nail. For children to use physical self-defence skills responsibly, they need to have verbal conflict communication and friendship skills that they can try first.
Children go through different developmental stages which influence their friendships. Based on interviews conducted by psychologist Robert Selman with children of varying ages, friendships develop through 5 phases. You can read more about these stages in the Psychology Today article “Childrens' growing friendships”. To summarise:
- 3-6 year olds are momentary playmates – the focus is on the game, not the person. If friends want to play different games, they often say that they are not friends any more.
- 5-9 year olds appreciate assistance – Friends are children who do nice things for them. They care a lot about friendship and may put up with a not-so-nice friend, just so they can have a friend.
- 7-12 year olds appreciate reciprocity, but can be very rule based. They know that they need to contribute to friendships but expect favours to be returned almost immediately.
- 8-15 year olds develop more supportive friendships by confiding thoughts and feelings with their friends and helping each other solve problems. They may feel very possessive of their friends at this stage.
- 12 + Mature friendships develop characterised by emotional closeness, acceptance of differences and less possessive trust and support.
Friendship skills at Personal Strength
Children need to work through these stages themselves. But it can help to have the language and confidence to join in with others, and to talk things through when problems arise in friendships, which they inevitably do. Personal Strength mat-chats with 5-8 year olds practice confidently asking to play, and explore the value of inclusiveness; mat-chats with 8-12 year olds practice talking through friendship difficulties; and mat-chats with teens focus on boundaries, rights, and consent in friendship.