Children’s words about friendship before and during the pandemic

Tamara Pribišev Beleslin, University of Banja Luka, Faculty of Philosophy, Bosnia and Herzegovina (
Sanja Partalo, University of Banja Luka, Faculty of Philosophy, Bosnia and Herzegovina (

Background: Peer relations are the basis of friendship, and have an impact on the overall development, growing up and education of children. Many theoretical approaches deal with the phenomenon of friendship, although, for the purposes of this study, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory was chosen. Starting from the assumption that the mutual interactions between and within wider and narrower social contexts can directly affect the child’s microsystem, experiences and understanding of the world, children’s voices are considered as a reflection of the friendship in changed social contexts: life until the pandemic, and life with “normalization” to pandemic conditions.

Aim: To describe and compare children’s words about friendship in two social contexts.

Method: In a qualitative study, a research question was asked based on the aim: Are there any differences in how children perceive the concept of friendship before and during the pandemic? Participants comprised 90 5- to 6- year-old children who attended kindergarten for more than one year. Structured interviews occurred within two sub-samples: 60 interviews with children made before COVID-19, and 30 during the pandemic. An inductive analysis and Spradley’s relational theory of meaning were chosen to help analyse the data.

Results: Before the pandemic, friendship was related to four categories: action, emotional state, behavior and opposition to quarrel. In the responses of children during the pandemic, the words describing physical distance in the behavior of friends are more frequent, which leads to the implication that children subtly incorporate influences of the external system into their worldviews, and thus shape behavior and social interactions at this age. The results of the data, collected before and during pandemic, will be compared and represented. 

Conclusions: As a specific system, kindergarten is a space in which children shape their social experiences and culture with peers by and through continuous sustained interactions. This environment, in  mutual relations with others systems, can influence, provoke and strengthen children’s friendships.

Implications for children: Your friends in kindergarten also have their thoughts about how to play and behave with others during this pandemic. We all learn from each other!

Implications for families: Your child needs a permanent group of peers in which he/she develops and maintains social relations, that are the basis for the development of friendship between children. Regardless of the pandemic conditions that are currently challenging the social closeness among children, their immanent need is to be with other children, to play, communicate and practice social relations.

Implications for practitioners: You should be aware that the contents and ways of interactions in kindergarten as a system are subject to influences from meso-, exo- and macro-, as well as, chronosystem (especially from the family and media) during the pandemic, and is directed to children’s understandings and making friends with peers.

Key words: friendship, children’s voices, comparison, COVID-19, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: