Relationships are necessary for children’s overall well-being and health trajectories. High quality friendships mediate language development, social competence, emotional regulation, cognitive growth, self-concept and psychosocial adjustment. They provide a catalyst for playful interactions, laughter, companionship and emotional support (See Bagwell & Schmidt, 2011). Furthermore, they promote feelings of acceptance and belonging – feelings that are physiologically tied to the neural, endocrine, metabolic and lymphatic systems that regulate overall health (see Eisenberger & Cole, 2012).
Conversely, a lack of meaningful social connections can lead to chronic stress and feelings of loneliness and isolation that can undermine children’s well-being and overall health (see Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Children who struggle with social connections – those who are challenged by chronic negative relationships, exclusion and isolation, for instance – are at risk for developing maladaptive social skills that can lead to social, emotional and/or behavioral problems such as anxiety, depression or aggression (Bagwell & Schmidt, 2011). Over time, the cumulative effects of negative experiences can compromise their well-being, health, engagement with school and quality of life (see Umberson & Karas-Montez, 2010).