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Parent’s Guide: Friendships

Friendships are important! Friends can help see you through the good times and the bad.

For young children, learning how to make friends and play with others typically really begins around age 3. By the time they start reception friendships become a serious matter…

So, let’s take a look at ways you can help your little one at home to encourage them to make friends, what to do if you have any concerns as well as what factors can influence your child forming friendships.

First, what factors can influence children’s friendships?

  • Age

Your little one's age is likely to affect their ability to form and maintain friendships. This is because there are several developmental skills that children have to master. Click here to find out more.

So, while babies don’t have friends as such, though do play with others, children between 3-4 start to have clear preferences for playmates.

  • Communication

To form friendships, children need to be able to recognise what others might be thinking or feeling and adjust their responses accordingly.

If your little one has a toy, they may offer to share it with another child if they’re able to recognise that the other child wants to play too.

  • Language

Language is an important skill when forming friendships. As children develop strong language skills, they can use them to organise their thoughts and control their emotions.

Chatting also becomes a feature of play as children grow older.

  • Self-regulation

Learning how to control impulses and emotions is important when forming friendships.

Self-regulation is all about developing the skills necessary to cope with waiting for a turn as well as being rejected/not getting their way.

Click here for our full guide to self-regulation.

  • Temperament

How quickly your little one will make friends and how many children they want to play with can depend on their temperament.

Some children are very happy in the company of just one other child, while others like to play with several.

Ways to help your little one at home

  • Be a good role model

Children learn by observing and copying their parents. While you won’t be perfect 100% of the time (no one is), when children see kindness modelled regularly, they are more likely to model this themselves.

Try to show acts of thoughtfulness towards others and explain why these are important – even if it’s as simple as calling grandma.

It’s also important to give positive feedback when your little one demonstrates thoughtful behaviours, especially if it’s not prompted by you.

  • Others’ feelings

While babies are quick to pick up on others’ emotions like happiness and anxiety, it’s also useful to give explanations to what others are feeling and why as your little one develops.

Use everyday situations for this such as, if you see another child crying after their parent leaves, you can tell your little one ‘Sam is missing their parent – they must be feeling sad and maybe a little scared’.

Storybooks are also a great way to introduce these chats! Click here to check out recommendations provided by BookTrust.

  • Partnerships

One of the hardest lessons your child will have to learn to have friendships is that they can’t always have it their way. They won’t be able to win every game or expect that their idea for playtime will be taken up.

Help introduce this to your child at home by not letting them always be in charge and not allowing them to win every board game.

Instead before playing, talk to them about how it’s good to take turns so that everyone has a good time.

  • Encourage collaboration

One of the skills that your little one will need is to collaborate with others. You can practice this together at home – encourage them to help with day-to-day tasks like cooking, setting the table, and getting dressed/ready.

Offer them plenty of positive feedback so that they learn to associate helping with feeling good about themselves.

What to do if you’re concerned

Early Years friendships take time. Experts suggest that it can take until the end of the reception year for many children’s friendships to be stable.

Even then, it’s likely there will be fallings out as they’re still learning.

Few friendships in nursery and reception actually last long-term. Keep this in mind if you’re worried about your little one’s friendships.

On the other hand, if your little one seems to be upset, it’s worth having a chat with the teacher or practitioner.

They may be able to see a pattern of friendships during play and organise a few structured activities to get your little one more involved. Or alternatively, suggest more ways in which you can help your child at home.

Additional resources


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