Early Friendships

June 21, 2018
Early Friendships

Infants and toddlers are typically too young to have the social, emotional, and cognitive abilities necessary to forge friendships, but children start to develop these skills around ages 3 – 5. That’s great timing, because preschool is a great environment for children to learn and practice these relationships.

1. What do early friendships look like?

When 1 – 2 year olds spend time together, they will imitate each other playing with different toys, making noises or laughing. Toddlers have short attention spans and few social graces: typically, they are not able to engage in make believe play or apologize if they hurt a friend’s feelings. While this may not look meaningful, mimicking each other is how children explore and learn about their environments. As children get older, they begin to understand the concepts of sharing and empathy.  They can show affection to friends and identify shared interests. This often leads to what developmental specialists call “fort building” – when two children want to play with only each other, often in a private space like a corner of a room or under the kitchen table.

2. Why are they important for child development?

Children benefit from friendships in many of the same ways as adults.  Friends help us solve problems, work through similar experiences, and provide emotional support. Particularly for children, friends can also serve as role models for coping with difficult situations. And even though parents can try to instill manners, communication skills and respect for others at home, kids often learn the most about relationships and friendships from other kids.

A back-and-forth relationship, like a friendship, helps a child practice vital social skills, such as: an ability to express their feelings, identify and understand others’ feelings, compromise, and resolve problems without parental involvement. Friendship also involves practice in sharing – toys, interests, time, and affection.

3. How can parents help foster strong relationships?

Although preschool-age children are gaining new social skills every day, they often still require adult supervision to deal with meltdowns or squabbles. Joint activities with individual results, like arts and crafts, can be great for children because they can spend time together but can control their own play.  Once your child gets older, it’s important to give them space to explore and practice on their own.

4. How can parents model healthy friendships?

Like most things, kids learn about relationships from watching their parents. You can model positive relationship behaviors by:

  • Demonstrating healthy ways to resolve a conflict with your own friend, neighbor or colleague
  • Talking about how everyone has their own feelings and sometimes friends can disagree
  • Enlisting your child’s help baking a birthday cake or writing a “Get Well Soon” card

For more on encouraging friendships, click here.


Photo credit