As an educator, I know that for a child's first few years, most children are exposed largely to family members and close family friends. Being on the receiving end of the unconditional love and acceptance that family provides gives children a solid base of confidence and self-esteem from which they are able to build further social attachments. Personally, my children's very first true "friends" were the other children that they met at church.
As friendships develop, kids become increasingly aware of the feelings of other people, expressing happiness when their friends are happy and showing empathy for a friend's hurt feelings. They will also seek out their similarities, instinctively knowing that sharing common bonds is important to maintaining friendships. They'll focus on favourite colours, foods, or games, and delight in the fact that they are alike in many ways. Another common development as friendship capacity develops is a child's desire to protect their friends. Friends stick together. Further bonded by their common experience, their loyalty to the friendship deepens.
My first child's first friend is an amazing boy. He is just a part of the family. My son has even wanted to change his last name to theirs! There is a definite bond between the two boys. Even if it has been weeks since they have seen each other, even if there are other children there from different parts of their lives, they are still a pair, a team. They stick together.
At times they've played "remember when" to my amusement. Remember when we went to Six Flags? Remember when we played tee ball? Remember when we played at the park that time? They have shared experiences.
Our friend was born a week before our wedding and our son was born almost a year after our wedding. Their bond started before they knew it. Our friend was our "practice kid." We'd babysitt, take him to play, sit by him when we'd all go out -we'd practice taking care of a baby together as a couple. When I was pregnant, our friend would ride on my protruding belly as I'd carry him.
But the sweetest times are those times when I see a solid base of confidence and self-esteem growing for these two. Not a bse grounded in accomplishment, but rooted in their common similarities - their faith in Christ. When they learn Bible stories together, pray together, worship together, they are building bonds that will run deeper than they can imagine.
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Ecc 4:10