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Preschoolers: Making friends
Preschoolers: Making friends

Preschoolers making friends: what to expect

By three years, many children regularly do activities with other children – for example, at child care, kinder or playgroup.

At this age, some children have a clear idea of who their friends are and can name them. They might look for their friends when they arrive at preschool or playgroup, and play just with them. They might even want to have playdates with friends.

Other children at this age might not have friends they can name, but they might be keen on making friends.

By four years, most children will be able to tell the difference between ‘my friend’ and other children they know.

How preschoolers make friends

Children need to learn friendship skills. As children play with others, they build skills that help them with friendships now and in the future. These are skills like sharing, taking turns, cooperating, listening to others, managing disagreements, and seeing other people’s points of view.

Helping preschoolers make friends during play

Giving your child the chance to play with other children from preschool or playgroup can help your child develop friendships. It’s a good idea to start with playdates with one or two friends rather than a lot of children, especially if your child is shy or slow to warm up in social situations.

You can start by talking with your child about who they play with, why they like playing with them and what they like to play. Then you can talk to the other parents about playdates, either at your home, at a local park or somewhere else that gives the children plenty of space and things to play with.

Here are some ideas for helping your child make friends during play:

  • Give your child and their friends different options for play. For example, you could say, ‘Would you like to play with blocks or cars?’ Praise the children when they decide on something together – for example, ‘I love the way you two worked that out together’.
  • Put your child’s special toys away when friends come over. This can stop arguments from starting.
  • Stay close. It can be reassuring for your child to have you nearby, particularly if the children don’t know each other well. As your child gets more confident you can be further away, although it’s still important to be aware of what’s going on.
  • Keep an eye on what’s going on. This will help you know whether children are just enjoying some rough-and-tumble play, or whether the play is getting out of hand. If things are getting too rough, you’ll need to step in.
  • Set a time limit for the playdate. When children get tired, they often find it harder to cooperate. It’s good to finish play time with everyone wanting to do it again.

‘You’re not my friend!’
Preschoolers are learning what’s OK in friendships and social groups. So some preschoolers might tell other children they can’t join in ‘their’ group or say things like ‘You’re not my friend’. They might also make bargains or threats around friendship – for example, ‘If you don’t invite me to your party, I won’t be your friend’.

Some children might be hurt by this kind of behaviour, and others seem able to shake it off. Often children sort things out and are ‘friends’ again minutes later.

It might help to explain to your child that it’s normal to feel lonely sometimes, and most people don’t get along with everyone they meet. Planning some playdates with other children from preschool might also help your child feel more confident about playing with everyone at preschool.

If your child talks about persistent problems playing with friends at preschool, or problems with some children in particular, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s preschool teachers. The teachers can keep an eye on what’s happening and follow up with conversations, stories or activities.


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