Do you remember your first best friend as a child? My first real experience with calling someone my BFF was in 2nd grade, though I had close friends in my neighborhood and schooling prior to. Her name was Deirdre and we lived two streets apart, making it easy to hang out whenever we pleased. We were in the same class, which meant we hung out all day, every day. We called ourselves best friends because we had fun together. I can't remember if we had any of the same interests besides the games we liked to play, but it didn't matter.
At some point during elementary school, Deirdre and I both switched schools, resulting in a fading best-friendship. It was the worst; it was heartbreaking. Sure, since we lived close, our parents tried keeping up with playdates. But as we both grew and made new friends, the bond the two of us shared fell apart. Decades later, we are still pals; in that I mean we're Facebook friends and we comment on each other's photos and status updates. We kept in touch but our relationship was never as strong as it was when we were young girls.
Though my friendship with Deirdre wasn't built on the elements adult friendships are, things like having similar tastes in music, interests in the same hobbies, or being teammates sports teams, what we had paved the way for who I am today.
Why Kids Need Best Friends
We talk a lot about the importance of 18-inch dolls. Dolls, as well as the pretend play that comes along with them, help children grow their imagination and creativity. Taking care of dolls teaches empathy and responsibility. Dolls help increase compassion and they face children with real-life questions. Kids mimic what they see their parents doing; serving dinner, giving baths, potty training. All of these same benefits that come with dolls come with having a best friend.
Best friends teach us to recognize and express feelings. I mentioned above that Deirdre and I moved to different schools the same year. With new schools come new friends, and with new friends comes jealousy. Thank goodness social media wasn't a thing back then because I'd have been extra bummed out seeing Deirdre's new friends swimming in her pool or playing in her basement the way I once had. Though I didn't always see pictures of her new friends, I knew they were over. The days she'd cancel plans with me to go to a new friend's birthday party, or the days we were together where she talked nonstop about her new friends and their awesome backyards, would hurt my feelings greatly and I know she had the same experiences in vice versa.
We were too young to really understand jealousy, and we certainly did not know how to express our feelings, so we'd fight. Not physically, of course, but things got ugly once in a while. At the time, it felt awful. Our parents weren't happy with us and we even got punished. However, looking back, it taught me a lot. I learned that new friends are great, nothing to be jealous of. As I grew up, I was able to recognize jealousy and learned to (at least try to) express my feelings and concerns with friendships.
Best friends encourage us to be the greatest versions of ourselves. I was a very shy kid. Kid you not, I used to look away when teachers would smile at me in the hallways because I was so uncomfortable. Granted, I am an only child so that could have had something to do with it, but it was a really big problem for me. After meeting Deirdre, I found myself slowly becoming more confident and outgoing. She'd laugh at my jokes and enjoy my stories, and I did the same for her.
I remember wanting to try out for the elementary school talent show, and she suggested we do a duet. Before I met her, being on stage was something that would have never crossed my mind, not in a million years. However, with her by my side, anything seemed possible. We practiced our routine at home and during recess, laughing and creating great memories along the way. No, we didn't make it in the show (a blessing in disguise), but she helped me out of my comfort zone and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Best friends help us become more giving and thoughtful. Almost every time I went shopping with my mom, I'd pick out things I knew Deirdre would like and ask my mom to buy it. Whether it'd be a BFF necklace or a fun coloring book, I'd always find things that reminded me of Deirdre and I knew, even as an 8-year-old, that those gifts would make her happy.
There were times I'd go over her house and her mom would give me a piece of dessert or leftovers because Deirdre had asked her to save me some, knowing that they were my favorite.
These small but meaningful gestures are so powerful and they can't be taught in a lesson, at least not in the same way a real-life example would. Having someone outside of my family who meant so much to me taught me how to put others first and to go out of my way to make them happy.
There are so many reasons that children need a best friend. It could be a classmate, a neighbor, or even a cousin.
Most importantly, remember that friends come and go. People come into our lives when we need them most. The same is true when those people aren't in our lives anymore. The things I got from Deidre are completely different than what I've received from other close friends throughout my life. Each friend contributed a variety of powerful lessons to my life, and I hope the same could be said about myself with them.