Teaching Preschoolers Friend-Making Skills

by Carles Cavazos Brito

Preschoolers Making FriendsNot every preschooler needs to be taught friendship skills. Some social butterflies instinctively tune into other kids. They greet friends, pull them into an activity, share their toys and sense when another child feels upset. As a baby, these wee ones grinned and passed out playthings freely.

We've seen the flip-side personality in babyhood. These concerned tots sat on toys and hid them in their shirts. They seemed not to notice overtures or even tears streaming down the cheeks of their playmates.

Even if your child falls into the latter category, don't panic. Friend-making skiils can be learned easily.

Vital Friendship Skills

"Early friendships set the path for life-long consequences," says Gail Joseph and Phillip Strain from the University of Colorado's Center on Evidence Based Practices for Early Learning. A child with supporting friends is on a developmental path toward self-confidence, continual friendships, school success, and healthy adult adjustment.

Children who make friends easily behave differently from kids who do not. Your child can learn the ropes with just a little help from you. Let's start with how to invite another child to play.

Organizing Playtime

An activity or game often begins with "let's..." followed by a suggestion such as "draw a picture" or "roll this truck back and forth."

For example: Your child sees a teddy bear on the shelf. "Let's have a picnic with this baby. I'll get a blanket and you get some food."

Sharing: What's Mine is Yours

With preschoolers, sharing can take many faces. Competent friend-makers ask for things with words like, "can I have that?" They also share when other children make similar requests.

Caring: Helping Others

Does another child need help getting on or off a toy? Are they puzzled? Are they upset? Children with friendship skills notice and offer a helping hand.

Giving Compliments

Children can be skimpy with compliments, but they have a powerful effect on friendships. Preschooler socialites compliment one another's successes, buildings, and appearances.

Changing Roles

When another child asks to play or has a different play idea, kids with social skills often say, "yes."

Example: When another child suggests a new rule, your child is willing to give it a try.

Be a Relationship Coach

Before heading out into the world of friend-making, your child needs these basic social skills: Empathy, emotional self-control, and communication. You can equip your child with this skill set, and here's how.

Teach About Emotions

To encourage emotional competence, talk to your child about feelings. Talk about your own feelings and help add words or imagery to your child's strong emotions.

Create a Bond

Kids who can depend on a parent for support adapt more easily to new social situations. They develop another key ingredient for friendship -- empathy.

Encourage Creative Problem Solving

Most children will experience ejection and rebuffing. Help your child find creative ways to cope. The "what if" game is one such technique.

For example: Karli and Gem are playing grocery store. Your child wants to join in but is told there's not room. "What if I be the checker or what if I put groceries in the bag?"

Limited choices can also help a small child learn problem solving skills. Offering two ways to can solve a conflict coaches respectful interactions and allows your child to feel independent.

For example: Would you like to ask if you can play with car when she's finished or would you like to find another toy?

Watch Out for Bullying

Almost all three-year-olds go through a bossy phase. Most young children go through a biting or hitting stage. It's normal. That doesn't mean bullying behavior is acceptable or good for your child. How should you handle it?

Encourage assertive behavior. Teach your child to face a bully with words like "don't do that to me," that isn't nice" and I don't like that."

Be a Role Model

Preschoolers want to be just like you. When you ask for a toy instead of taking it or talk about how an action makes you feel, you're setting an example your child can imitate. With practice, your preschooler can be on the road to making friends.

Do you have a social butterfly or a child who needs a bit of encouragement making friends? Which tips have helped in your family?