Learning about friendships
At age three or four years, your child might be very skilled at interacting with peers, especially if she has siblings close to her own age or has spent time in group care.
But even if he has had little experience getting along with other children, that doesn’t automatically place him at a disadvantage. A child who is a beginner with peers can catch on quickly, while some old hands might need to unlearn behaviours (such as toy snatching) that worked in a previous setting, but not any more.
In addition to her past experiences, a child’s temperament plays a big role in how easily she gets along with other people.
A moderately active, outgoing, cheerful child often has a relatively easy time. A child with high energy and strong impulses often has more negative early relationships until he develops some measure of self-control. A cautious child might spend lots of time observing from a distance, until he’s more comfortable in a given setting. Even then, he might choose to have one or two friends, rather than several.
It takes parents who know their children well, and teachers who can
work with a range of different children, to make the preschool
experience positive for every child.
Tips for helping your preschool-age child get along with peers
- In your home, create a safe play environment. Since preschoolers are very active, you’ll need to be aware of any large objects that would be easily knocked over (such as lamps); hard edges on coffee tables; things that might be climbed on but really shouldn’t (bookshelves); and any poisons (cleaning supplies, medicines or toxic house plants). You’ll be supervising, of course, but there’s always a phone call or knock at the door that claims your attention for a few moments. That’s all it takes for a child to be injured.
- Start with short playtimes, and just one other child. Gradually, allow the time to increase as your child and her friends can handle it. Meeting on neutral ground (a park, for instance) can reduce some of the difficulty young children have sharing their toys.
- It’s easier for children to adopt reasonable, polite behaviour if they observe their parents being reasonable and polite to them. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you give your child whatever he wants and shy away from setting limits. Just the opposite. As children learn to deal with the limits that their parents set, they also learn to cope with the frustrations of peer relationships.
- If your child doesn’t go to preschool or organised child care, you’ll need to work harder to find or create settings where she can learn social skills. The trick is to find one or two like-minded parents with a child close to yours, perhaps at the playground or at the library. Then you can organise a playgroup one or two times a week. Small and simple works best. Many communities also have toddler/preschool playgroups at libraries or community centres.
Choose a preschool where discipline is firm but not harsh or punitive. When children feel bullied by adults, they often turn around and bully their peers.
- Have reasonable expectations for sharing. Some preschool children already know how to share, but many won’t really understand sharing until they’re five or six years old. It might be easier for some children to share certain toys if other playthings – such as favourite stuffed animals or anything brand new – are clearly not ones they need to share.
Accept a range of friendships. Some young children form very close attachments to each other. Others have any number of playmates, but no close friends. If your child is in preschool, talk with the teacher about the quality of friendships your child has developed.
- If your child is having consistent problems making or keeping friends, and the teacher or child care provider sees the same thing in her classroom, it might be time for a consultation with a child behaviour specialist. Often, a knowledgeable person can help you and the teacher do things differently, so that a young child who has been struggling can be more successful.