By Amanda Morin
Many kids are starting to form their first real friendships in preschool. But others don’t seem to know how. Here are ways to help your preschooler through the process of making friends.
Ask your child about who she spends time with at school or at other activities. Listen not only then, but also when she’s talking about her day in general. Does she talk about Jess with admiration? Does Allie seem to get on her nerves?
When you pick your child up from preschool, keep an eye out to see how she interacts with the kids she’s mentioned. If it looks like a good match, ask her if she’d like to invite one of them over for a short playdate.
Even preschoolers 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 kids she plays with at school and ones she plays with outside of school. Ask which ones like the same things she does and if there’s one she likes best.
Encourage her to identify which kids are which types of friend. If she wants to see if a “school friend” can be a closer friend, tell her you’ll help her set up a playdate.
Some young kids don’t think about who they choose as a friend, but rather who might choose them. Explore with your child what she thinks makes someone a good friend. If that’s too complex a concept, ask her who she thinks is a good friend. What is it about that person she likes?
Prompt your child to think about traits, like generosity (“Does she share with other kids?”) or things they have in common (“Does she tell knock-knock jokes, too?”).
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 talk about the importance of being dependable, helpful to others or able to trust that someone is telling the truth. In the long run, having a sense of values can help your child see when a potential friend may not be a good match.
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: Tell her you’re doing this to help her learn ways to be a good friend.
Hosting playdates 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 help maximize your child’s success. If your child doesn’t do well with open-ended activities, help her pick an activity ahead of time.
Keep initial playdates short and 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.
Making friends in middle school can be stressful and tricky. If your child struggles with social skills, it may be even more challenging. Here are some ways to help your child connect with other kids.
There’s a lot that goes into making and keeping friends. If your grade-schooler struggles with social skills, he may need some coaching on how to connect with other kids. Here are some ways you can help.
Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.
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At a Glance: 4 Common Social Challenges for Grade-Schoolers
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