Friendship-Building Tips for Toddlers:
- Toddlers who have siblings and those in daycare tend to acquire social skills earlier because they practice them daily. If you're a stay-at-home mom or have an only child, it's a good idea to head to the library, playground, or a mom-and-tot class to give your toddler a chance to interact with his peers.
- Toddlers are naturally inclusive, so group play dates are fine at this age. Your child probably won't show any special preferences for one friend over another yet. She'll view all other toddlers as potential playmates.
- Before every play date, hide any toys your toddler won't be comfortable sharing. If a battle over Chicken Dance Elmo is going to result in a tantrum and tears, it's best to keep Elmo out of sight for the duration.
- Encourage positive social skills through your words and actions. Tell your toddler what you expect, and demonstrate when possible: "We say please," "Let's share," "We take turns," "We don't hit." Don't be discouraged if your toddler doesn't follow these rules yet; most won't. But with time and experience, your child will get the idea and start to follow your example. Learning good social behaviors now will make it easier for your child to form friendships in the years ahead.
Around age four, children become more selective in choosing playmates. This is when behavior begins to play a role. Four-year-olds will seek out friends who exhibit positive behaviors such as gentleness and sharing, and avoid those who display negative behaviors such as hitting or grabbing toys.
Children this age also begin to choose their friends based on common interests. A child who likes playing with dolls will make friends with others who like dolls, while a child who prefers trucks will make friends with others who share that interest. Gender differences, however, don't often matter to preschoolers. Boys and girls happily mix and form friendships at school, in playgroups, and at birthday parties.
Friendship-Building Tips for Preschoolers:
- By age four, it's best to focus on one-on-one play dates, Cohen says. If you invite more than one child over, you risk creating an "odd man out," leaving someone with hurt feelings. This is a good age to learn the concept of loyalty to one friend. If another child asks to come along, your child can politely say, "I already have a play date today, but how about another time?"
- This is also a good age to seek out playmates with common interests. If your daughter is athletic, invite other athletic girls over; if she's quiet and bookish, other quiet, bookish kids are a good bet. Similar temperaments and shared interests will make a promising foundation for long-lasting friendships.