From time to time parents are concerned about when their child will form friendships with other students or why won’t they let my child play with them, or is it strange that my child prefers to play alone. As educators we are asked these questions. We acknowledge their concerns and do our best to assure them that there is a process that we guide but not control. As children grow and mature they learn what friendships are all about and in their time they learn how to make, include and exclude others in their circle.
Learning how to build lasting friendships is a process that start at infancy. When your baby first saw you she began the process of building a trusting relationship with you. She soon began to smile and make cooing sounds that implies she enjoys your presence. The connection to parents, caregiver, and family members causes children to experience positive social interaction. This interaction with others was the foundation for what building friendships are all about. As she became accustomed to this interaction she desired to share it with others she trusts in her environment.
As children move into toddler play with others toddlers, they desire to broaden their interaction with others in their environment and peers their size. This interaction should be encouraged but not forced. You will find that toddlers making noise to get their peers’ attention, and playing alongside their peers but not necessarily with them. As early as two years old, some toddlers began to show preference in whom they would like to play with and may refer to their playmates as their friend. This is mostly because they are enjoying play together at that time and they are interested in the same play. This form of social interaction can start and end with in the same day, but perfectly normal. These are building blocks for more stable friendships for when they get older.
The start and end of friendships for short periods of time can continue up to age four. However, most preschooler began voluntarily to choose peers that share the same interest. Shortly after that, they become aware of how social interaction and friendships choices increases one’s social status among the group. Therefore, we find children competing to be friends with certain students. This is perfectly normal for this age group. Rather than being judgmental, we realize that this behavior shows a higher level of cognitive and social awareness among children. We use this opportunity to help them learn how to move through this phase effectively and teach them life skills on how to develop inclusive and meaningful friendships.
The process of building friendships in young children can be challenging for adult to watch and guide, but it is really a process that is guided by the child. We are there to encourage positive interaction in a safe environment. We can also assist by being a great role model of what true friendship looks like. As we continue to model positive interactions with others, children will know to whom they can go to get good advice on how to maintain and build long lasting friendships.