It’s important for preschoolers to be able to play well with other kids and make friends. If your child doesn’t yet have these skills, you’ll need to do a little more preparation when kids come over to play. But these strategies can help hangouts go off without a hitch.
1. Pick the right playmate.
Not all kids are a good friend fit for your child. Preschoolers have their own personalities, interests, and rhythms. Ask your child’s preschool teacher or daycare provider if there are kids in class that might be a good match. Is there a particular classmate your child likes to spend time with? Be sure to ask your child, too.
2. Invite the parent or caregiver.
Most preschoolers are a little young to be playing together without supervision. Having a parent or other caregiver tag along makes sense on many fronts. First, it can help the other child feel more secure. Second, it can make it easier to keep the peace if needed. Third, it gives you more freedom in case your child needs a little extra attention from you.
3. Choose a good location.
Home can feel like the safest place to test out a new friendship. If it makes your child more comfortable, consider having other kids come to your home. But if your child tends to retreat at home when new people are there, think about another spot where the kids might have fun together, like the playground.
4. Select a smart time.
If your preschooler still takes naps, keep that in mind when you pick a time to play. You want your child to be rested and alert. If you’re considering having the kids get together somewhere besides home, think about when that place will be the least crowded.
Also, limit the time. Even if it only lasts 30 minutes, a short and successful outing is better than a long, unhappy one.
5. Prepare the space.
If a friend is coming to play at your house, put away the toys you know your child will have a tough time sharing. But if you have doubles of any toys, lay them out. If the kids have trouble sharing a particular toy, you can point out the pair. That way, nobody has to wait.
6. Plan backup activities.
Before the playdate, find out what the other child enjoys doing. That lets you launch into an activity in case the kids are slow to warm to one another or are having trouble taking turns with the toys.
7. Prepare your child.
Discuss what will happen when the friend comes over. “After lunch, Jake from speech therapy class is coming over with his dad to play. Jake loves trains, too, so I was thinking you might want to show him your train table. We’ll have a snack, and then he’ll leave.”
8. Make introductions.
When the new friend arrives, give a rundown of where everything is. Also, explain any house rules. Do this within earshot of your child. That will give your child a refresher on rules such as no food outside the kitchen and no jumping on the couches.
9. Stay close, but don’t hover.
Preschoolers may need your help solving common playdate problems. But they need some freedom, too, to figure it out on their own. Stay within earshot so you can help if necessary. Give both kids a 10-minute warning before it’s time for the friend to leave. Let them pick one more activity or game before cleaning up.
10. Recap the experience.
After the friend leaves, praise your child for the positive things you saw: “I liked the way you shared your blocks.” Ask what your child enjoyed most. Also, give your child a chance to talk about what didn’t go well. “You looked worried when Jake asked to see your room. What were you thinking about?”
Making friends is an ongoing process for kids. And starting in preschool means you’re setting the stage for years of socializing.
About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.