A growing body of research suggests that children’s friends can provide a strong calming influence on them and that these relationships have a measurable effect on stress hormones during tense times. Echoing these findings is research published in Developmental Psychology showing the presence of friends mitigates the effects of negative experiences on children.
In the small study (subscription required), researchers assigned 5th and 6th graders enrolled in Montreal schools to keep journals on their feelings and experiences over the course of four days and submit to regular saliva tests that monitored cortisol levels. Study results showed children’s feelings of self-worth and levels of cortisol, a hormone produced naturally by the adrenal gland in direct response to stress, are largely dependent on the social context of a negative experience.
Study co-author William M. Bukowski, PhD, director of the Concordia Centre for Research in Human Development, discussed the significance of the findings in a release:
Having a best friend present during an unpleasant event has an immediate impact on a child’s body and mind. If a child is alone when he or she gets in trouble with a teacher or has an argument with a classmate, we see a measurable increase in cortisol levels and decrease in feelings of self-worth.
Our physiological and psychological reactions to negative experiences as children impacts us later in life. Excessive secretion of cortisol can lead to significant physiological changes, including immune suppression and decreased bone formation. Increased stress can really slow down a child’s development. What we learn about ourselves as children is how we form our adult identities. If we build up feelings of low self-worth during childhood, this will translate directly into how we see ourselves as adults.
Previously: Study offers insights into how friendships help children manage stress
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt