Although making friends comes naturally for many children, some children need a little help, says Susan Taylor, a family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“It is important for children to have friends because of the benefits they provide,” Taylor said. “Children need experiences with other children for social and emotional growth.”
Spending time with friends is fun and exciting. Friendships support children’s well-being and can help them handle different social situations. Through friendships children learn social skills like sharing and taking turns. They also learn about fairness, following rules, how to negotiate, compromise and cooperate with others.
Preschoolers will need help from their parents to make friends, Susan Taylor said. Providing opportunities for preschoolers to be with other children helps them learn how to play with others and practice good social behaviors. Having some consistent playmates allows a child to begin to form bonds with other children.
Children also can practice social skills by playing with their parents when other children are not available, Taylor said. Children who know how to be friendly, take turns, and show kindness have an easier time making friends.
“You can point out positive behaviors for your child to observe and praise your child when he or she demonstrates one of the skills,” Susan Taylor said.
Parents also can teach their children basic problem-solving skills to help them learn to resolve conflicts that invariably will occur when children are together, Taylor said. “Children learn by observing, so be sure to model social skills you want your child to see and use with others.”
As children get older and spend more time with other children, they may experience occasional rejection. Most children sometimes are socially clumsy, insensitive or even unkind. Parents and other adults can watch for these signs that a child may need some social coaching:
- Lacks at least one or two close mutual friends
- Has trouble losing or winning gracefully
- Doesn’t show empathy when others are hurt or rejected
- Acts bossy or insists on his or her own way a lot
- Can’t seem to start or maintain a conversation
- Uses a louder voice than most children
- Seems constantly ignored or victimized by other children or constantly teases or annoys other children
By giving children the chance to spend time with other children of the same age and by teaching them positive social behaviors, parents make it easier for their children to enjoy the benefits that come with making friends, Susan Taylor said.
For more information
Importance of teaching social skills– from Parenting 24/7, University of Illinois Extension
ISU Extension and Outreach Publications
- Getting Along – Brothers and Sisters, PM 1652
- Preschool and Kindergarten Ahead – Early Learning, PM 2081A
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