Making friends is one of the most rewarding experiences that can happen for children when they go to preschool. Having that one special friend or a group of friends makes the preschool years so much fun. I have to say that one of the nicest things about working with children is seeing them make friends over the course of the preschool year.
I remember one particular sweet little girl who was yet to make a special friend. She had been coming to preschool for well over a year and her mum was a bit worried that she was yet to find a friend. Sure enough, she ended up being good friends with another little boy after playing a fun game of chasing. They played chasing for weeks and weeks until they were finally firm friends. These two had known each other for a long time. But it took that one game of chasing to form a connection.
Interestingly, one of the most common questions I get asked by a parent after their child’s very first day at preschool is “Have they made any friends”. I get it, as a parent myself we all want our kids to form good fun friendships and be happy.
What Do Children Need To Make Friends?
However, forming friendships takes a whole lot longer than one day at preschool. To form friendships kids need
- Social Skills
- Good Role Models
Children Need Time To Form Friendships
Young children need time to learn what friendship is. They have to work out what it means to be and have a friend. Once they have an idea of the complexities of friendships, they then need time to cultivate and nurture these friendships. Just like we do. Even though we are adults, we still need time when it comes to making friends.
Maybe it’s helpful to try and put ourselves in our preschoolers’ shoes. When we go to a social function where we may have never met one single person there before. Do we leave that function after one night with a best friend? Not usually. We may have clicked with some people more than others. We might have even made plans to catch up with these new potential friends. But we probably couldn’t really say “Hey I made a friend today” after just a few short hours. So why do we expect our children to?
Children Need Social Skills To Make Friends
As children play with others they will learn and build skills that will help them make friends now and in the future. They need to learn super important skills like sharing, turn-taking, listening to others, cooperating, and how to resolve conflict. That’s a lot of skills!!
Not long ago PJ Masks was the big ‘thing’ at preschool. A lot of children were right into pretending to be the PJ Masks characters, running around fighting crime in the playground. But every day there were arguments because everyone wanted to be Catboy. I had no idea who this Catboy was because my own kids are much much older and I’m still stuck back in the late ’90s and early 2000’s when it comes to kids’ popular culture. Ask me anything Pokemon and I’m all over it. But Catboy ??? not at all. All I knew about him was that he was causing a big fuss in the playground for us. I had to google who this Catboy was.
Anyway, my point is that not everyone could be Catboy. The kids had to learn to take turns being Catboy and they had to work it out with help and encouragement from the teachers. The kids had to be willing to negotiate and listen to the cries of unfairness from their peers at not being given a turn to be Catboy. They had to understand, show empathy and finally agree to take turns. It’s hard to be friends with a bossyboots or children who don’t take turns, so learning skills such as these are so important.
Good Role Models
Parents are their children’s greatest role models. Children will learn and copy everything you say and do. It is so important to show children through your words and actions how to interact appropriately and how to treat others with kindness and respect.
Parents and educators need to teach children the skills they need to make friends. This could be done by using puppets or toys to do role plays explaining and demonstrating skills such as listening, cooperating, and sharing.
Have discussions with children about how to make friends. Suggest to them the language they can use if they want to play with someone. Teach them to say “Do you want to play?” sounds simple enough but often kids need to learn important phrases like these so they can initiate play with other children and eventually make friends.
If kids don’t have the language necessary to get along with others and make friends they might sometimes do inappropriate things. I’ve seen kids shove other children as a way to get attention and hopefully get them to play with them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work, kids need to learn what to say to other children if they want to play with them.
But Why Does My Child Have No Friends?
One of the reasons why you’re preschooler may not be forming friendships is simply because they may be too young. As adults, we have so many years of experience when it comes to the art of making friends. Yet a little preschooler is at the very beginning of their lifelong journey of forming friendships. They have yet to learn so many skills that will equip them to make friends.
Sometimes kids might have all the necessary skills to make friends but still, you find that they struggle with forming friendships. This is sometimes the case and a source of worry for parents. But we need to remember that all children are unique and different just as we adults are too.
Some children are super confident and outgoing, they may have many friends in the playground. Last year we had a little girl at preschool who was just like this. My goodness, she was so confident! She would round the kids up, assign them roles, negotiate what they were going to play, and off they’d go. She even formed her own choir and taught her friends how to sing “La Cucaracha” for the Christmas concert. But don’t worry, in all my years working in preschool this level of confidence is unique.
Other kids can be shy and need lots of time and positive experiences in the playground to form friends. And others just prefer their own company and are very happy playing alongside other children. They might join in sometimes but mostly they are very happy playing on their own.
It’s the same for us adults. Some people we know like to be the life of the party, happy to lead conversations, break out in song or take over the dance floor. While other adults might find all this very exhausting and prefer quiet evenings at home alone or with a few close friends.
Speak To Your Child’s Teacher
Ask your child’s teacher if you are still worried about how your child is going with making friends. They will be able to give you a clear picture of what they see during the day and let you know if they share the same concerns.
But generally speaking, I think it’s safe to say that children will eventually form friendships. The time it takes will vary with each child, just like it varies with us adults.
One Last Thing
If you would like to read about fine motor skills for young children. You can find it here.