Young children and friendships


Young children playingWhile babies and two year olds like to be involved with other children, most children start to make friends from around three years. It is at this point that they start to take turns and to cooperate.

How strong a friendship it becomes is likely to depend on how much time children spend together and also how children like to play.

How can I help my child to make friends?

Friendship skills are quite complex and take a while for children to learn. This is why most children do not develop strong friendships until after the age of three.

As a parent, it is worth recognising those skills that help children to become a good friend. The starting point is probably communication. 

Children need good language and also the skills to recognise the facial expressions to pick up the cues from others.

Parents can help their child to develop these skills by spending time reading and doing activities where there is likely to be plenty of chat. 

It is also helpful for parents to draw children's attention to others' expressions and feelings. For example, if you read a book together point out a character's expression and gently probe the child as to why the character may be feeling happy or unhappy. 

Learning to share

Boys playing in the sandAs well as learning to share, children also need to be cooperative and thoughtful. As a parent, you can help your child to develop these skills by encouraging your child to help you in day-to-day tasks and then thanking your child for their help.

This is important, as children learn to associate helping out with being valued. 

It is also good for children to learn to share and then, again, to be recognised for this act. This can be anything from offering a toy to another child to being encouraged to give you a bite of their biscuit or a sweet. The latter is likely to be done reluctantly but this is good, as friendships do sometimes require a little personal sacrifice. 

The key is to praise your child for their good deeds and show how their small act gives pleasure. Similarly, children also need to learn to take turns and let others sometimes go first. Board games and other activities that require turn taking are very good for this.

Being a role model

Finally, children learn about warm relationships, taking turns and being generous from their parents. This means that you should try to model these traits as much as you can (eg offering to look after the neighbour's cat or putting money in a charity tin). 

It is also useful for children to be given an explanation of why it is good to do such things, as this helps to embed the concept of empathy and thoughtfulness.


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Last updated: about 3 years ago