Friendships are your child’s first voluntary relationships. In early childhood, friendship is all about who your child “likes.” They may explain to you, “Leia is my friend.” And if you ask them “why?”, they will probably reply with an attractive trait: “because she is nice,” “because she shares,” or even “because I like her.”
You will likely observe the following evolution in your young child as they grow:
- Having friends – they will start by identifying and attaching to specific children with whom they share common ground.
- Who their friends are – even young children can begin to learn their friend’s names and recall details about their friends (what they look like, what their parents look like, if they have a pet, etc.)
- Friendship quality – almost undoubtedly, when common ground wanes, your child’s friendship connections will change. However, as they grow, flexibility in shared experiences will lengthen the duration for which they are connected to friends (ie playing games another friend wants to play or adapting to new likes/dislikes).
We all want our children to have excellent social skills! How can you encourage your child to be a good friend?
- Affirm kindness – go out of your way to praise your child for kind and/or empathetic behavior.
- Model friendliness – take steps to exhibit prosocial behavior by exercising hospitality and friendliness to family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.
- Comfort others – whether it’s a baby doll or a sad friend, show your child how to comfort someone who is upset.
- Work cooperatively – family chores and even games can go a long way toward modeling teamwork, role-sharing, and cooperation for your child.