How are your kids in preschool? Are they past the stage of crying and wailing at the sight of their classroom door? Are they well-adjusted now and talking about their new-found friends? Do they mention names of their “bestfriends” or tell stories how one girl in school helped them with schoolwork or how one boy at school shared his “baon”?
According to a study at the University of Illinois, “establishing friendships is an important developmental goal of early childhood. Friendships established during the preschool years create valuable contexts to learn and practice skills essential to children’s social, cognitive, communicative, and emotional. “
While having a social connection and making friends seem like a natural gesture for most kids, especially for those kids who are inherently amiable and charismatic, is there a way for parents to help their seemingly shy child establish rapport and make friends?
In the eyes of a child
“Below the age of 7, friendships are based on physical (same age or gender) or geographical considerations (next-door neighbor) and are rather self-centered,” according to Dr. Paul Schwartz, a psychology professor and child behavior expert. He continues to explain that “a friend is a playmate who lives nearby and has “neat” toys, and likes the same games. There is little or no understanding of the other person’s perspective or feelings, or personality traits other than the avoidance of a playmate because, they are mean.”
According to Dr. Schwartz, friendships evolve based on stages of human development and a pattern is created early on for fostering friendships later in life—some are transitory, while others last for years.
Our world described as cold by Dr. Schwartz, having friends makes it a warmer place to thrive by providing comfort, intimacy, and support. He believes that friends “provide us a feeling of security and an understanding of ourselves as we continue through our own developmental process.”
So how do we guide our children practice essential life skills such as making friends?
5 tips to help your child make friends
1. Be the friend you want your child to have.
Show your child how to be a good friend by how you interact with the people around you. Do you communicate with politeness and respect or do you gossip and bad-mouth other people in front of your kids? Do you regulate your emotions and show your child how you cope with negative experiences or do you lash out at other people before the eyes of your child?
Young children typically mimic the behavior of the adult so if you do not want your child to be the “mean” one, show him/her what a good friend is like.
2. Prepare your kids by improving social skills.
One of the best ways to prepare your kids for meaningful friendships is to do activities that improve social skills such as playing, painting, drawing, and reading together. While it is easier to hand our kids pen and paper to draw or give a book to read as we go on with our day’s to-do-list—doing things together help them feel at ease with sharing, communicating, collaborating, and taking turns.
3. Encourage your preschooler to reach out and be brave
There are kids who are instinctively affable and comfortable in social events and gatherings. But there are also kids who clam up and would rather not talk even if they want to join a game or talk to her seatmate or play with another child. You can encourage your child to be brave and express himself by “including” him in some social situations like when you are talking to a friend that you meet while grocery shopping, allow your child to introduce himself and say “Hi.”
At children’s parties, if they give you a look like they want to join games but are too shy, encourage them, nod at them, and tell them it’s okay, instead of dragging them to the center and mumbling empty threats if they don’t join.
Help them notice “social cues” like “I think Esther needs help with her books. Should you ask her?” Or maybe, “Oh is that your new friend, James?” Or perhaps, “Looks like she wants to tell you something. She’s been staring at your toys, do want to ask her if she wants to share?”
Establishing social connection should feel more natural than forced—otherwise, they will probably sulk in a corner and avoid situations that would make them feel they’re obliged to to do or say something. If it feels natural to connect, your child will have more courage to reach out.
4. Teach your preschooler how to start conversations
You can teach your preschooler some topics they can ask their classmates about like what interests them for example—favorite toy, favorite movie, favorite food, favorite pet and the like. You can also ask them how their day was, what interesting thing happened at school, what funny thing happened at school or what was the best part of today’s class so they get more relaxed in telling stories or sustaining conversations.
You can also teach them how to compliment other people by telling them that it’s nice to make people feel good about themselves. If your child thinks that her classmate’s dress is pretty, let them say, “That’s a really pretty dress!” Or if someone’s output was outstanding, your child can say, “That’s a really nice drawing!” Or proudly tell their friends if they make them feel good about themselves like “I’m really glad you are my friend. You make me happy.”
5. Schedule playdates
Setting up play dates with mommy and daddy friends in a more relaxed environment like parks or playhouses will help your child feel relaxed in making friends, too. The weight of school tasks and activities can sometimes overwhelm our little ones that they are too tired to play with another child or too swamped to take conversations further.This way we can also see how our child reacts during play and will give us parents some points for reflection because kids mimic behavior that they see, and that behavior might be something our kids observe from what we say or do as parents.
That’s what friends are for
Baby Steps tell us the benefits of our preschoolers having friends or why making friends is important.
- Friends give your child emotional support
- Friends help your preschooler beat stress
- Friends encourage healthy behaviors
- Friends are good for your child’s physical health
- Friends push your child to be their best