My son and I are at the park and we've hit it at just the right time - there are about 30 other children already there. My son's face lights up and he spends the next hour running all over the playground with other children and eventually plays catch with a few of them. By the time he is ready to go home, he is sweaty and exhausted and can't stop smiling.
On the car ride home, I asked him what some of the other children's names were. I am not surprised when he mentions that he forgot to ask (this is a common issue). But in the next sentence he referred to the fun he and his "friends" were having.
It is interesting to me that he thinks of those children as friends, even though he doesn't know their names. (And, in fairness to my son, none of them asked his name either.)
I'm fascinated by the way my son interacts with other children - immediately regarding new people as friends and joining into their games. Or, when he mentions someone as being his "best friend" at school, but the names tend to rotate out faster than I can keep track of. I'm glad when he talks about all this: Navigating relationships outside of the family is important to his overall growth.
So, I'll keep watching, especially since I've learned that the real fascinating discoveries about friendship will come in high school: Our popularity in high school tends to lay the foundation for how we view friendships for the rest of our lives. It should be shocking to no one to learn that close relationships formed in high school tend to lead to the greatest amount of happiness later on in life. But what may be surprising is what happens to the popular crowd: They tend to be the ones experiencing the highest degree of social anxiety later on in life. Popular, it turns out, is a hard quality to keep up with.
I'm not sure where my son will land on the social scale - the kids in his elementary school all get along well now, but I know that it is not going to be that way forever. For my part, I can continue to ask him questions about what makes a good friend and see what he values as he gets older.
Do you think your child is popular? Tell me in the comments.