Many kids are starting to form their first real friendships in preschool. But others don’t seem to know how. They may have trouble listening, understanding social cues, and other skills needed to make friends. Here are ways to help your preschooler through the process of making friends.
1. Identify potential friends.
Ask your child about which kids are fun to spend time with. Listen when your child talks about daily activities. Is Jess mentioned with admiration? Does Michael seem to constantly do things that bother your child?
At preschool (or daycare) pick-up time, watch how your child interacts with other kids. If someone looks like a good match, ask your child if it would be fun to invite them over or meet up at the playground one day.
2. Talk about different types of friendship.
Even young kids might think every friend has to be a BFF. But you can help your child understand there are different kinds of friends. Talk about how there are some kids who play together at school and some who play together outside of school. If your child wants to see if a “school friend” can be a closer friend, you can look into setting up a playdate.
3. Help your child recognize a good friend.
Some preschoolers don’t think about who they choose as a friend, but rather who might choose them. Explore with your child what makes someone a good friend. If that’s too complex a concept, ask who your child thinks is a good friend. What makes your child feel that way about that person?
Prompt your child to think about traits, like generosity (“Does Taylor share with other kids?”) or things they have in common (“Does Mei tell knock-knock jokes, too?”).
4. Talk often and openly about values.
Starting conversations about values early can make it easier to keep talking about them as your preschooler gets older. That doesn’t mean telling your child what you think is wrong or right. It means talking about things that are important to you.
For example, you may want to talk about the importance of being helpful to others or trusting that someone is telling the truth. Developing a sense of values can help your child see when a potential friend may not be a good match.
5. Practice playdate skills.
Skills like sharing, knowing how to talk to another child, and avoiding being bossy don’t come naturally to preschoolers. It can be even harder for kids who have trouble reading social cues or who struggle with communication. Find fun ways to practice these skills. And be honest with your child: It’s OK to say that you’re doing this to help your child learn ways to be a good friend.
6. Plan get-togethers carefully.
Hosting can be a lot of work, but it gives you a real-time chance to help your child successfully connect with other kids. Plan carefully to maximize your child’s success. If your child doesn’t do well with open-ended activities, decide together on an activity ahead of time.
Keep initial get-togethers short. Listen not only to the words the kids are saying, but to the feelings they’re expressing. Intervene if things get aggressive, but try to let your child work through minor conflicts that come up.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.