A Few Good Friends
The Perils of Popularity
As long as a child's bonds with others are mutually enriching, a wide circle is fine. But when it comes to really close friends, "the more the merrier" concept doesn't apply. A child may be popular, and have the social skills that attract kids to him, but that doesn't mean that he has the kind of friendships he needs: ones in which he feels understood, cared for and accepted for who he is- warts and all.
"A lot of parents think that if their child is popular, he's happy and well adjusted, but that isn't always true," says Robert Billingham, Ph.D., professor of human development and family studies at Indiana University, in Bloomington. "Some kids get their sense of self-worth from being good at attracting friends, and feel a lot of pressure to sustain their popularity." A parent's goal should never be to raise a popular child, he says, but one who has the skills to make the number of friends he wants.
To some extent, that number will vary as a child matures. In fact, the whole concept of what a friend is changes as kids grow older. In preschool and the early elementary years, when kids have limited control over where they go and with whom they spend time, a buddy is basically anyone who is available to play and who gets along with them. Since a lot of children meet these criteria, kids ages 5 to 8 are apt to throw out a lot of names in response to the question "Who are your friends?"