Understanding Relationships Among the Littlest of Friends
From the time he could say their names, my son talked continuously about two of the children in his family-style childcare. They were both older, nearly three as compared to his 18 months. By the end of the year he had merged their names into one from frequent use. My son seemed more subdued on the days when one of them was sick, and he gave each of them a hug when they arrived in the morning. Of course I called them his friends.
But do toddlers really have friendships? Do they wrap their minds around relationships in the same way older children and adults do? Not exactly, experts say.
It's popular among parents to believe that six-month-olds in a playgroup are having fun with their "friends," says Dr. Sarghi Sharma, MD, assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. These youngsters can engage with each other to some extent, but they are not interested in each other in the same way that adult friends are.
Give-and-take, cooperative friendship does not generally exist until around age three, according to the child psychologists, pediatricians and childcare providers interviewed. But children can and do express preferences for other kids long before then.