It's pretty well known that kids in middle school and high school place a high value on friendship. This is the audience for whom this type of rhetorical question was invented: "If Sally jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?"
But the roots of friendship reach far earlier into a child's life. When babies like my daughter play, even alongside other children, they're still playing by themselves. It's called parallel play. By the time Lucy is two, she'll be interested in taking turns and playing cooperatively. She'll still do some parallel playing, though. This helps kids learn language and limits from each other.
Children between the ages of three and six play directly with each other. Their games have rules, especially at the top of this age bracket, and kids start having favorite friends to play with. Children aged six to nine form close emotional bonds. And friendship only gets more important from there on out, as kids gain the life skills that will lead to future independence from their parents.
All along these years, parents can help ready their children for successful friendships.
Author Carol Weston, who has written three advice books for girls (Private and Personal, Girltalk, and For Girls Only), lists a few things parents can do to instill friendship skills.
"They can be role models themselves by enjoying their own friends and showing that friendship is part of their own lives," Weston says. And they can pass on some of those unwritten rules of friendship.
Small children need to learn to say thank you and wave bye-bye, Weston says. Older kids need to learn about hurt feelings, including what causes them and how to deal with them. And they need to learn about the issues surrounding popularity, she adds.
As with all things, some kids will make friends easily and others will require more work. The kids who do it easily "just have the knack of being friendly, smiling, saying hi, asking questions, and paying compliments," Weston says.
Weston's point here is important: Kids who make friends easily take an interest in other people. They're not focused on being liked as much as they actively like others.