Parents play a major role in helping young children develop a healthy social life. While it is essential that little ones have ample time and space to play freely with their peers, parents can help shape their child’s social skills so friendships are more likely to form.
Here are six tips to help your preschooler make pals:
Be a model friend
Little eyes and ears are always watching and listening. Children mimic the behaviors they observe. Be sure to demonstrate active listening, patience and politeness in your interactions, and show kindness whenever possible. Avoid gossip, name-calling and bad-mouthing others — even if you think your children aren’t listening.
Try emotion-coaching your child
Learn to reflect emotion empathically with your preschooler. Research shows that when parents use emotion-coaching strategies, their child can better regulate his or her own emotions, which leads to steady friendship-forming behavior. Dr. John Gottman teaches parents how to be an emotion coach in his book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.”
Practice with puppets or stuffed animals
One of the most effective ways to help preschoolers learn social skills is to set up pretend social scenarios with puppets or stuffed animals. When my son was 3, he would bring me a puppet, put another puppet on his own hand and say, “Mommy, make Bunny talk, pwease.” Then he would act out whatever was on his mind.
Schedule one-on-one play dates
Some children feel overwhelmed in group settings. If this is your child, you may want to organize one-on-one playtime with some initial structured activities to facilitate interaction.
Respect the friend chemistry
Let’s face it, sometimes two people just don’t click. This happens with young children, too! Personalities, energy levels and interests can clash. If after a few tries it appears the friendship isn’t going to blossom, don’t push it.
Read stories about friendship
Story time is one of the best ways to teach your child what it means to be a good friend. Some of my favorite books about friendship are:
- “A Bug, a Bear, and a Boy” by David McPhail
- “Hunter’s Best Friend at School” by Laura Malone Elliott
- “The Story of Fish and Snail” by Deborah Freedman
Learning how to make friends is a fundamental part of life. Helping shape this skill set in ways that feel most natural and familiar for your preschooler will help build your child’s social confidence.