A Child’s First Friends

Socializing is one of the most complex skills a child will learn. As parents, we can do a lot to help them develop these skills positively.

Even as toddlers, friends play a special role in children’s lives. Friendship helps build self esteem and teach empathy. But the seeds of friendship begin before the toddler years, planted when our children are still infants.

Child psychiatrist Dr. Alice Charach explains that “friendship actually begins at birth because the basic building block of friendship is that special relationship between a child and his parent. After children have developed really strong, trusting relationships with their mom or dad, they can then go on and expand their world.” Dr. Charach adds that “children start to expand their world around age one or two, when they become interested in other children. They want to be with them, play with them, and watch them. And that is when it’s really helpful for parents to start coaching them in what is the best way in getting along with other children.”

Making friends begins with learning how to play. “The first type of play that you’ll see your child engage in is solitary play,” says child life specialist Bindy Sweet. That means playing alone or watching others. People get concerned about children playing alone or watching others and they think that it isn’t really play. But it’s fine for children to have time alone and watch others.”

At about 18 months we begin to see children engage in parallel play. “That’s the kind of play we often get when toddlers get together,” says Sweet. “They’re playing side by side but doing different things. They’re getting comfortable with each other and watching each other, but we wouldn’t really call it interactive play at that point. Soon however they will move into co-operative play where you see that back and forth exchange and communication.”

During the toddler years friendship can involve little fights and bouts of crying. But Dr. Charach says many fights can be avoided by preparing children for visits with friends. “If you want to help young children develop friendships, then make sure they’re not tired and hungry when they’re with little friends. Help them feel good at the time that they’re with their friends and they are more likely to have positive experiences.”

Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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