By Raising Children Network
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Preschoolers doing craft
Making friends is an important part of your child’s development at preschool, and friendships often develop as children play together. You can help your preschooler learn to play well and be a good friend.

Preschoolers making friends: what to expect

There’s a big range of normal when it comes to preschoolers making friends.

Some children seem to make friends easily. They might be able to name their friends. They might look for their friends when they arrive at preschool or playgroup, or ask you about having playdates with their friends.

Some children might not have friends they can name, but they might be keen on making friends. And others might be slower to warm up and need time to watch what happens before joining in.

Just like adults, some children seem to get energy from being around lots of other people. Others can find this tiring and overwhelming.

Some children have many opportunities to meet and play with other children, and others have less experience.

Friendships help children feel like they belong, which is good for children. Knowing how your child responds to other children gives you a good basis for helping him make friends and friendships in a way that suits his personality and temperament.

How preschoolers make friends

Preschoolers develop friendships during play. And as your child plays, she builds skills that help her with friendships now and in the future. These are skills like sharing, taking turns, cooperating, listening to others, managing disagreement, and negotiating different views and ways of thinking about things.

For example, when children decide to play in the home corner, they have to decide what roles to take and what to do – not everyone can be mum! And if they all want to be mum, or they have different ideas about what mums do, they have to work it out.

Helping your preschooler learn about being a good friend

At home with your child, you can help your child learn about being a good friend.

For example, your child might need to give and take when he’s playing with his sister and they’re deciding what to play or who gets to use a particular toy.

When these situations happen, you can describe and explain what’s going on and why. For example, you might say, ‘That was a great idea to listen to each other before you decided what to play’, or ‘What if you told a story where you both had a turn with the toy?’

When you play games like board games with your child, you can show your child how to win and lose graciously.

It might help to remember that many of these skills are hard even for adults. Your child is still learning and she needs lots of opportunities to practise being a good friend.

Helping preschoolers make friends during play

Providing time for children to play with other children from preschool or playgroup can help them develop friendships.
Here are some ideas for helping your child make friends during play:

  • Talk with your child about who he plays with, why he likes playing with them and what they like to play. If you know who your child likes to play with, you can talk to other parents about playdates.
  • Make a time for children to meet and play. You could invite other children and parents to your home, or arrange to meet at a local park.
  • Help your child play well. You can do this by giving your child and her friends some different options for play. For example, you could say, ‘Would you like to play with blocks or cars?’
  • Put your child’s special toys away. This can stop arguments from starting.
  • Stay close. It can be reassuring for your child to have you nearby, particularly if the children don’t know each other well. As your child gets more confident you can be further away, although it’s still important to be aware of what’s going on.
  • Keep an eye on what’s going on. This will help you know whether children are just enjoying some rough-and-tumble play, or whether the play is getting out of hand. If things are getting too rough, you’ll need to step in.
  • Set a time limit for the playdate. When children get tired, they often find it harder to cooperate. It’s good to finish play time with everyone wanting to do it again.

When things go wrong with friendships and playdates

There’ll be times when play between preschool friends doesn’t work out the way you planned.

Children behaving aggressively
If this happens, you might need to step in and guide the children’s behaviour. In this situation, it’s important to be clear about what needs to stop and why. For example, ‘Please stop pushing each other. You’re both getting hurt’.

Suggesting a different activity can calm a situation. For example, ‘Jack and Noah, how about you come out into the garden and kick the ball for a bit’. This can also help if the parent of the other child isn’t there.

Playing solo
Sometimes your child might take some time by himself away from the play. Talking with your child – as well as watching what happens – can help you work out what’s going on.

Playing solo is usually nothing to worry about. In fact, you’ll often see two children playing alongside each other. That’s because children at this age are still learning how to play together.

But if your child seems unsure of how to join in play, is consistently left out by other children, or often doesn’t want to play with others, there are things you can do to help. You can:

  • encourage your child to watch what others are doing so she can work out how to join in. For example, ‘Bella is setting up a restaurant. Maybe you could be a customer?’
  • talk about ways she could start play and invite others to join. For example, ‘Can you help me dig a hole in the sand?’

‘You’re not my friend!’
During the preschool years, children sometimes say things like ‘You’re not my friend’.

Some children might be hurt by this, and others seem to be able to shake it off. Often children sort things out and are ‘friends’ again minutes later.

If your child talks about problems playing with friends at preschool, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s preschool teachers. The teachers can keep an eye on what’s happening and can follow this up with conversations, stories or activities.

Planning some playdates with other children from preschool might also help your child feel more confident about playing with others at preschool.

  • Last updated or reviewed 18-09-2015
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Professor Sue Dockett, Charles Sturt University.