Friends are important for children’s development. But making and keeping friends doesn’t always come easily, and children need to learn how to do it. Luckily, there are ways you can help them to be a good friend.
What are the benefits of making friends?
Having friends is important for everyone. Friends share problems, give advice and build self-esteem. For children, making friends is an important part of their social and emotional development. Learning to get along with friends builds their self-confidence and their sense of their identity.
Friends are also important for physical health. Children are more likely to be physically active with friends. Feeling happy and good about themselves means they are more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle.
How do young children make friends?
How young children make friends will depend on their age and development. Toddlers don’t have the skills yet to make friends and are likely to play with the children you introduce them to. At this age, some toddlers will be more social than others.
At 3 years old, many children are meeting others at playgroup or child care and may be able to name their friends and want to play with them. Sometimes children this age don’t have a clear idea who their friends are.
By age 4, children usually have friends at preschool or day care. They can tell the difference between a friend and other children they know. Some find it easier to make friends than others. Your child might love interacting with other children, or they may be quieter and prefer to watch rather than join in. Many play with different children every day.
Children can have different types of friendships, including best friends, friends they play with in a group, or imaginary friends. It doesn’t matter – what’s important is that they learn compassion, good behaviour and how to care for others.
How can I help my child make friends?
Children need different skills to make friendships last. For example, they need to practise how to share, take turns, listen to others and handle conflict.
Some of the ways you can help your child learn to get along with others include:
- showing them how to share and take turns
- encouraging them to listen to others and understand others’ point of view
- showing them how to lose graciously
- practising listening and talking
- playing games with them so they can learn how to follow the rules
- encouraging them to smile when they meet other children
- showing them how to take an interest in others - for example, by asking them a question or talking about something they both like
- demonstrating through your own friendships what it means to be a good friend
You can also create situations for your child to come into contact with others. For example, you can organise play dates, take your child to meet others at a park, or enrol your child in activities like sport or drama.
When your child is playing with a friend, keep a close eye on them so you can intervene if conflict starts. Put your child’s favourite toys away to minimise the chance of arguments. You can help them to find games or play that they both like - for example, by sending them out into the garden to play. It’s a good idea to set a time limit on a play date when they’re young, as they’re more likely to argue when they’re tired.
How can I help when friendships go wrong?
Parents are often worried about their children’s friendships. It’s common for children to come home and say they don’t have friends, that no-one likes them, or that they have fallen out with a friend.
Often the problem will quickly disappear, but you can talk to your child’s teacher and see if the preschool or school can do anything to help them feel included. You can also work to build your child’s self-esteem, and help them remember how to play with other children.
If your child has had a dispute with another child, try not to react straight away. It’s important for your child to learn how to manage their friendships by themselves. You usually don’t need to call the other child’s parents. Talk to your own child about what happened and help them find ways to say sorry or make it up. You can role play what to do.
If you’re really worried about your child’s friendships, it’s a good idea to talk to their teacher, your doctor or a child health nurse.
You can find more tips for young children on making friends at:
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Last reviewed: May 2019