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How to help preschoolers make friends

Vicki Clinebell majored in journalism at the University of Colorado, and headed an advertising agency before beginning a long career in broadcasting, spanning production and copywriting to sales and management for an ABC affiliate statio...

Helping your child find and keep pals

Shy children may need a little help from mom and dad to learn how to interact with other children and start making friends.
preschool friends

Playing with friends is an important way for every child to learn social rules and skills like sharing and how to take turns, but it's fun, too. If your preschool child is a bit reserved or is shy around other kids, you can take some steps to help him learn to interact more easily.

Start slowly

Children who are cautious by nature often play well by themselves, but they may need a little help to form friendships. Being shy around other children isn't necessarily a bad thing, and most children will outgrow their "loner" status naturally once they meet some potential new pals. If your child mentions someone from preschool or the neighborhood, find out through gentle questioning if this other child is someone your kid would like to know better. If the answer is yes, call that child's parents to arrange a casual playdate.

Informal get-togethers are a great way to encourage a timid child to be more socially comfortable. Keep it small, with just the two children playing together, and keep it short — one or two hours with a new companion should be plenty of time. To increase the odds that the kids will have fun, orient the playdate around games or activities that your child enjoys. This helps to keep the comfort level higher for a shy child. Have plenty of toys or materials available for everybody so children can simply play and won't necessarily have to share right away.

Stay close by. With new friends, your guidance can help make the kids feel more comfortable together, and you'll be nearby to help in the event of conflicts, if they stop playing together or if they simply seem ready for a new activity. You can oversee activities without taking over — the idea is to help break the ice and smooth out any rough spots without taking control. Be ready to help get things going, but hang back once the kids get into a groove and are playing together.

If the playdate goes well for both children, arrange regular playdates with the same child. As these children become more comfortable with each other, a change of venue is nice. Meet the child and his parents in a park or playground, or ride tricycles together for some energy-burning outdoor activity and fresh air! If your child seems uninterested in another meeting, don't force the issue. Parents should never insist that young children play together. You can set the stage for friendship, but kids have the right to choose for themselves.

Lead by example

Easy friendships for your child might come as a result of watching as you interact with your own group of friends. And the children of your friends and acquaintances will be less threatening once your shy child sees them around on a regular basis. Kids can hang back and observe a parent with their friends and learn a lot about how the friendship dynamic works!

Quick tip

Group activities with friends and relatives and their offspring can help your child learn to be comfortable around other kids.

More tips

Making playtime educational
Keeping playtime safe
Toddler boredom busters

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