SUNDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- A best friend can help children deal with negative experiences, a new study suggests.
"Having a best friend present during an unpleasant event has an immediate impact on a child's body and mind," said study co-author William Bukowski, a psychology professor and director of the Center for Research in Human Development at Concordia University, in Montreal. "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."
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In conducting the study, researchers asked 55 boys and 48 girls from grades 5 and 6 in Montreal to record their feelings and experiences in a journal over the course of four days. The children's levels of cortisol -- the stress hormone -- were also monitored in regular saliva tests.
The study, recently published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that cortisol increased and self-worth decreased when a child had a negative experience. However, with a best friend present when trouble struck, cortisol levels and feelings of self-worth changed less.
The researchers noted that what happens during childhood can affect people as adults, including having feelings of low self-worth.
"Our physiological and psychological reactions to negative experiences as children impact us later in life," explained Bukowski in a university news release. "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."
The study's authors said previous studies have also shown that having friendships can help protect people from bullying, exclusion and other forms of aggression.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
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SOURCE: Concordia University, Montreal, news release, January 2012