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Encourage Your Child To Be a Good Friend

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

Preschoolers want to make friends with other children and they should. There is a natural progression from solitary play during infancy to playing alongside others during the toddler years. Learning to make friends is an important task and part of your child’s growing social development and interest in the world.

Playing with other children, whether at home, in a daycare center, or nursery school provides preschoolers with the opportunity to expand their limited perspective and consider other points of view. Over time, preschoolers learn to manage their emotions and exhibit some self-control so that they can enjoy friendships with other children.  As they talk to each other and share toys, they learn to cooperate, solve conflicts, and have fun together, and parents can take a step back.

For a preschooler, a friend is someone who is both willing and able to play. Usually it is someone that lives nearby so it easier to get together.  The goal of friendship at this stage is enjoying activities together.

How Parents Can Promote These First Friendships

  • Encourage your child to be approachable. Teach your child to smile and make eye contact with other children.
  • Read stories and books to your child about friendship. The difficulties that the characters experience and how they ultimately resolve conflicts will help make your child aware of the social skills needed in being a friend.
  • Suggest that your child invite another child to your home for a playdate. Provide a safe environment and agree ahead of time which toys your child is willing to share. Put other toys away. Be sure to monitor the visit, provide a snack, and keep the playdate short enough to be fun and not tiresome.
  • Praise your child’s good social behavior such as sharing toys, taking turns, and compromising.
  • Stress and praise kindness towards others. Remember that your child watches and mimics your behavior, so be a positive role model.

Be realistic in your expectations for your child. Know that at this young age his ability to remember and practice all the “social graces” is affected by how he is feeling (Is he tired? Hungry? Coming down with a cold?) and by what else is going on around him. A child who has lots of experience playing in the secure, familiar environment of his own backyard with one friend may still be overwhelmed when faced with many children at a noisy and busy birthday party. Try to stay close by and offer coaching and support.

Making friends takes time. Encourage your child’s efforts and remember that this budding ability is crucial for social success as your child develops.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at mc333@cornell.edu.

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