Children who relate to others in socially acceptable ways are usually well liked and included in play and work activities.
To have a friend and to be a friend is more than a wishful thinking in the early years of childhood-it is a basic need. Infants as young as six months might crawl towards another infant to "check" him/her out. Toddlers usually might have a preference for certain partners in "parallel play." For preschoolers and kindergartners, friendship takes on a more intentional aspect.
Having worked with preschoolers, I often hear comments such as "Will you be my friend?" "You're not my friend!" or even "I hate you!" - these are not literal expressions of emotions but rather perceptions of the momentary prospects for play.
Around ages 6 through 12, children's friendships acquire a more sophisticated and lasting content. They may view friends as someone who are nice to each other, they help each other, share mutual interests and they maintain a relationship over time. By this time children begin to share toys, secrets, promises, etc. At this stage friends are a source of support and security. They serve as confidants and models of behavior. They may choose to terminate friendships if they perceive that a partner refuses to share or ignores their feelings.
Usually the skills required for positive social interaction comes naturally to some children and prove more challenging for others. Healthy peer relationships empower children to develop social competence, embrace egalitarian attitudes and handle conflict effectively. Early childhood programs that incorporate friendship as a major curriculum component and parents, who help their children develop good friendship connections, prepare children for a respectful, responsible role in their expanding world.
Some suggestions to promote positive social relationships:
- Read books, listen to music and view videos with friendship themes
- Have children draw pictures of themselves playing with friends
- Make a list of what friends do and what friendship means
- Discuss how it feels when a playmate moves away, create going-away friendship books
- Encourage cross-gender friendships
- Purchase toys, books, games and materials that encourage sharing, empathy and cooperation
- Plan joyful "get-togethers"
Provide opportunities for your child to play with other children-may be in your neighborhood, or in a nearby park, encourage your child to be a member of children's groups or participate in various activities.