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Understanding the levels of kids’ friendships: a comprehensive guide

kids' friendships

Watching your child navigate the maze and levels of friendships, your heart might often feel heavy with concern and hope. Every playdate, every shared secret, and every moment of joy or confusion underscores how vital these relationships are in shaping their young life.

Friendships aren’t just about play; they’re pivotal in molding their emotional and psychological fabric.

At its simplest, you may see your child laughing and playing with peers, cherishing moments of shared joy. But as the months and years roll by, you may notice the layers that start forming. 

Psychology Today highlights five evolving stages of friendship in a child’s journey from mere companionship to deep-seated mutual understanding and support. Knowing these helps us to be there for our children in more informed and empathetic ways.


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Yet, it’s not always straightforward. Personal experiences, their age, individual traits, and even the world they interact with play a huge role in how children bond. I often think of children who, due to past traumas or inherent anxieties, find it tough to let others in. 

Or those like my child when he was younger, who, through a wide array of experiences, find connections with peers different from them. These nuances, when understood, allow us to offer the right kind of support, ensuring our children can foster healthy and lasting bonds.

Key takeaways

  • Recognizing the layers of friendship is invaluable in guiding our children towards positive relationships.
  • Children journey through five distinct friendship stages as they grow.
  • Their age, unique personality, and surrounding world play crucial roles in how they bond with peers.

The basics of kid’s friendships

Every day, when your child comes home and shares little pieces of their day, you can feel the intricate world of friendships they’re building. 

They find joy in small gestures — sharing a favorite snack or keeping a seat open on the bus, laying the foundation for bonds that might last a lifetime.

Diving into resources like Psychology Today, I’m beginning to understand the natural shifts in the dynamics of friendship as children grow up.

basics of kids' friendships

It starts with simple acts of kindness, a playground alliance formed out of shared snacks or games. Soon, these relationships deepen, with a budding sense of loyalty and fair play becoming central themes in their social narratives. 

They start to grasp the value of reciprocity, where a friend chosen in one moment carries the expectation of being chosen back in the next, nurturing mutual respect and understanding.

As your child teeters on the edge of adolescence, you can foresee another transformation approaching. The chat will get deeper, grounded more in shared feelings and interests than in shared items. 

There might be fewer friendships, but the ones that remain will be rich, deep, and meaningful, forged through shared secrets and inside jokes, a testimony to shared values and mutual support.

That said, by guiding your child every step of the way, you’ll notice the delicate changes in their social interactions. 

Your role is to be that pillar of understanding and empathy. To support them in forming genuine, kind-hearted relationships. By nurturing these bonds, you’re setting the foundation for friendships that can endure life’s ups and downs. 

With your caring and patience, you’re guiding your child through the intricate journey of friendships. And through it all, you’re helping them discover friends who’ll walk beside them, growing and evolving through every beautiful stage of life.

The different levels of kid’s friendships

As children blossom, their friendships evolve, deepening and changing with time. Here’s a glance at the four core levels of a child’s friendships:


When your child comes home, mentioning kids they’ve met but not really bonded with, you’ll recognize these as the first steps into the vast world of friendships. 

At this early stage, children might share a classroom, playground, or activity, but their connection remains light. 

They’re more than strangers, but not quite friends. Simple greetings might be exchanged, but they might still be learning each other’s names or favorite colors. It’s the beginning, and every deep connection starts somewhere.

Becoming casual friends

Every so often, your child might be mentioning names of kids they play with during breaks or meet up with after school. These are the casual friends – the ones they laugh with over a game or share stories about a new toy. 

They’re not quite the heart-to-heart confidantes yet, but there’s a budding bond. It’s like they’re dancing around the deeper parts of friendship, sticking to fun topics and shared activities. 

While they might not know everything about each other, these connections are special, laying the groundwork for possibly deeper bonds in the future.

Close friends who your child connects with

When your child comes home with that sparkle in their eyes, talking animatedly about a day spent with a certain friend, you’d know they’ve entered the realm of close friends. 

close friendships for kids

These are the kids they truly bond with, the ones who know their favorite color, song, and even their little quirks. 

It’s more than just play; it’s about those shared secrets, the whispered conversations, and the comfort of knowing they have someone to lean on. 

Watching this deep connection grow will warm your heart, and it will remind you of the importance of these genuine friendships in their young life.

Best friends

Every time my child’s face lights up mentioning that one special friend, I used to feel a rush of gratitude. 

This isn’t just a buddy; this is their confidant, their partner-in-crime, their shelter in a storm. With this friend, they’re sharing not just games, but dreams, fears, and hopes. 

They laugh together, cry together, and grow together. It’s a bond so deep that their stories intertwine, creating memories that might just last a lifetime.

For us parents, understanding these profound friendships is a window into our children’s hearts. Recognizing and cherishing these bonds can pave the way for our little ones to form lifelong, heartfelt connections. 

We’re not just observing; we’re ensuring they find, cherish, and nurture these invaluable relationships in their lives.


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Factors influencing friendship levels

When it comes to understanding the different levels of kids’ friendships, there are several factors that can influence the level of friendship. These factors include age, interests, and personality.

Age of the child

Age plays a pivotal role in shaping friendships among children. When they’re little, their friendships often revolve around playdates, shared toys, and common activities. It’s heartwarming to watch them bond over a favorite game or cartoon. 

But as the years pass, and they edge towards adolescence, the texture of these friendships evolves. It’s no longer just about shared interests; it’s about shared emotions, confidence, and mutual support. 

The giggles and games of early childhood give way to late-night conversations and heart-to-heart discussions. Their friendships mature as they do, transitioning from surface-level playmates to deep connections rooted in trust and understanding. 

The journey from holding hands in the playground to being shoulders to lean on is truly profound.

Interest based friendship

Interests have a powerful pull on the heartstrings of friendships, especially among children. Imagine two souls, both ignited by the same spark—be it the rhythm of music, the thrill of a sport, or the allure of art.

friendship on same interest

Such shared passions become the foundation of bonds that can be beautifully deep and enduring. When children find common ground in their hobbies and pursuits, they’re not just sharing activities; they’re sharing moments of joy, excitement, and discovery. 

These shared experiences create memories, and with every laugh, challenge, and achievement, the threads of friendship weave tighter. It’s a testament to how the things we love can lead us to the people we end up cherishing.


Every child is unique, and their personality plays a big part in how they make friends. Think of it like this: Some kids are naturally talkative and bubbly. They easily chat with others, making friends wherever they go. 

These outgoing children are like magnets, often attracting many around them with their energy.

On the other hand, some kids are more reserved. They may not have a large group of friends, but the bonds they form are deep and lasting. 

They value quality over quantity, finding joy in those few trusted companions with whom they can share their deepest thoughts.

Each personality type has its own strength when it comes to forming bonds. Whether a child is lively and vocal or calm and reflective, every child has their own way of connecting with others. 

It’s essential to understand that both are equally capable of forming genuine, lasting friendships.

That said, our job is to support and encourage them. Every child, no matter their personality, should feel valued and understood. 

By recognizing and appreciating these differences, we can help them find their unique path to friendship, ensuring they experience the joys of companionship throughout their lives.

The evolution of Kid’s friendships

As your child grows, their friendships transform in remarkable ways. Recognizing and understanding these shifts can be a game-changer for you.

evolution of kid's friendships

With this insight, you can be there every step of the way, guiding and supporting your child’s social journey. Let’s explore the various stages of these evolving friendships

Stage 1: Short term playmates (Roughly ages 3-6 years)

When I see kids at this age, it’s clear that their world is all about the here and now. Their friends are those right beside them, ready for the next game or adventure. It’s all about the joy of playing together. 

But sometimes, they might struggle with sharing or waiting their turn, leading to a little tiff over a toy. Yet, their resilience amazes me; in no time, they’re either back laughing with the same friend or have found another buddy to join in the fun. 

It’s a heartwarming glimpse into the innocent beginnings of friendship.

Stage 2: (Usually ages 6-9 years)

When my little one stepped into the bigger world of elementary school, I noticed their understanding of friendship start to change and grow deeper. 

They began seeing friends as those kind souls who would surprise them with a shared treat or who would warmly save them a spot next to them on the busy school bus.

These tender gestures meant the world to my child, and every day they would come home with stories filled with joy and sparkling eyes, sharing tales of the wonderful things their friends did for them. 

At this age, I saw that their friendships were mostly about receiving love and affection.

Stage 3: (Approximate ages 9-12 years)

At this stage, you might see your kids starting to understand friendship a bit more. They learn that being a friend means giving too, not just getting. You’ll hear stories of them sharing toys and helping out their classmates.

But even now, their friendships can change fast. One day they are best friends because they both love the same video game and the next day, they might not talk at all. The connections are still simple, based mostly on fun things they both like to do.

You might notice that understanding and supporting each other’s feelings isn’t easy for them yet. 

Sometimes they get hurt because their friends can’t really stand by them in tough times. It’s a time of learning and growing, figuring out slowly how to be a true friend. 

It can be a bit of a rollercoaster, with happy stories one day and sad ones the next, but step by step, they’re getting there.

Stage 4: Intimate and mutually shared relationships (Approximate ages 12-15 years)

In this stage, you might notice the kids evolving in how they view friendships. They are now forming tighter bonds, finding friends they can share deep secrets and big dreams. 

Trust and emotional closeness become the glue holding their friendships together, as they learn to lean on each other more, offering a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.

But you may notice it’s not always smooth sailing. This is a time when little arguments can feel like earth-shattering events and the daily drama can sometimes take center stage. 

Yes, they are forming closer bonds, but they are also facing more conflicts, trying to handle big emotions, and sometimes getting swept up in the whirlwind of teenage drama.

You might find yourself comforting them one day and celebrating their friendships the next. It’s a rollercoaster, with the joy of close friendships on one hand and the stress of conflicts on the other. 

It’s a pivotal time for them, learning to navigate the complex world of friendships, full of both beautiful moments of understanding and tough lessons in empathy.

The impact of friendship levels on child development

Remember the joy in our childhood hearts when we made our first friends? The joyous laughter, the shared toys, and the tender comfort of a friend who stands by us? 

As we hold our children’s tiny hands guiding them in their little world, their friendships start to play a big role, bringing similar moments of joy, discovery, and comfort into their lives.

As parents, understanding these early friendships can help us guide our little ones better throughout their development. We can help them find good friends and be good friends themselves.

That said, the following are some of the ways that different levels of friendship can impact child development:

Level 1: Short term playmates

At ages 3-6, our little ones start forming their very first bonds. It’s a heartwarming phase where they meet their initial play buddies, mostly little neighbors or classmates who are easy to find and eager to share a game or a toy.

Even though these friendships are about fun and are often formed with whoever is nearby, they hold an essential role in our child’s life. 

It’s during this period that they learn the fundamentals of sharing and taking turns, essentially laying down the first bricks of communication skills.

It’s so important to foster kind and respectful interactions at this stage. It is a golden opportunity for a child to develop vital life skills like empathy and cooperation, nurturing the seeds for healthy and warm relationships in the future. 

Let’s cherish and nurture these innocent, joy-filled beginnings of friendship, guiding them to form bonds that are both simple and deeply enriching.

Level 2: One-way assistance

As they reach 6-9 years old, children start to appreciate their friends for the different strengths they bring to the table. It’s a time when they might admire a friend who is a star at sports or a little genius who shares a math trick or two.

In this phase, friendships become a sweet ground for learning and growth. My child begins to see that friends can be there to help, sharing what they know and lending a hand with school tasks or showing how to kick a ball just right.

It warms my heart to see these young minds helping each other, fostering a spirit of cooperation and growth. Let’s encourage them to be helpful buddies, sowing seeds of unity, and appreciation for one another’s strengths.

Level 3: Two-way, Fairweather cooperation

From ages 9 to 12, children start to form bonds that are about give-and-take. In this phase, your child might have a friend they laugh with and share secrets with when things are good. 

They learn to express themselves, sharing happiness and offering support during the happy moments.

But this stage has its challenges. Friendships are still evolving, and they may face disagreements or misunderstandings. 

As they try to understand and support each other, there may be times when they don’t always get along.

As parents, it’s important for us to be there, guiding our children. Helping them understand that it’s okay to have disagreements and showing them ways to talk and sort things out. 

By doing so, we can help them build stronger bonds and teach them valuable lessons about communication and understanding.

Level 4: Intimate, mutually shared relationships

As they reach around 12 years old, kids start to form closer and more trusting friendships. My own child is beginning to experience friendships where they can share secrets and personal stories, finding buddies they can truly confide in.

These deeper connections are a wonderful space for them to boost their self-esteem and feel a strong sense of belonging. It is during this period that they learn to open up, be vulnerable, and build bonds that are rich with trust and understanding.

However, these friendships are not always easy. They come with their own set of complexities, demanding understanding, patience, and a lot of heart from both sides.

It’s a crucial time for us to be there for them, guiding them to navigate these deeper waters with empathy and wisdom. 

Let’s help them cherish the joy of close friendships while also learning to manage the challenges that come with it, building a foundation for lifelong friendships that are healthy and rewarding.

Ways to support your child’s friendships

As parents, we hold a tender role in guiding our young ones in forming and sustaining heartfelt friendships. Here are a few simple yet meaningful ways to stand by our children as they build bonds with their peers: 

Encourage socialization

Watching your child grow, you might notice the growing need for friends in their life. It can be a concern, thinking about your child feeling lonely or not having buddies to share their little adventures with.

kid’s socialization

A simple yet loving step you can take is helping them make friends. Think about organizing playdates, or finding group activities they like. You can see the happiness in their eyes when they find someone who likes the same games or stories as they do.

It’s a journey filled with tiny but precious moments, watching them build friendships that bring joy and laughter into their life. Let’s open this wonderful world of friendship for them, guiding them to find and build those precious bonds.

Teach your child social skills

I used to worry about how my children will connect with others. It is a big, bright world out there, and I want to arm them with the heart and understanding to be a good friend to others.

You know, a simple yet profound way you can help is by guiding your child in learning important social skills. 

You can sit down with your child and talk about the little things that matter – like sharing their toys, waiting for their turn patiently, and finding kind words to solve small disputes.

By showing them how to do these things in our daily lives, we plant tiny seeds of kindness and understanding in their hearts. 

Picture the warm smiles and happy days your child can have by being not just a friend, but a good friend, one who listens, shares, and cares.

Set boundaries

You, like me, might feel that gentle tug of concern, urging us to ensure our child’s safety as they forge new friendships. That is why we need to help them understand the importance of setting clear and safe boundaries.

Imagine us sitting down with our children, having a heart-to-heart about when and with whom they can have playdates. 

We can also guide them on how to stay safe while chatting with friends online, teaching them to share, yet also keep some things private, keeping that delicate balance of trust and safety.

Be a good listener

Another beautiful gift we can offer them during this precious time is a listening heart.

Imagine those heartfelt chats, where you sit down, really tune in, and lend a caring ear to the stories, worries, and joys they bring home each day. 

It is through this loving attention that we let them know, their feelings, their little triumphs, and their concerns truly matter to us.

So, let’s vow to be that safe space for them, a place of understanding and gentle guidance. Through our patient listening, we can empower them to forge beautiful, strong bonds. 

To nurture friendships that are deep, fulfilling, and heartwarming, and to support them in building a world filled with understanding, trust, and joyous shared adventures.

Understanding the different levels of kids’ friendships

Got any comments, questions or tips about understanding the levels of kids’ friendships? Share them in the comments below.


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