Children need friends just like adults. But, children as young as toddlers may not be able to make friends on their own. As a loving parent, you can help your child in forming a group of friends. This will help her to socialise, share and be empathetic with others. These can also help her develop a healthy self esteem.
All these will eventually play a vital role in her fine grooming in the upcoming years. Interestingly children are ready for their first friends when they are around 18 months old.
How to help children make friends?
- There are a number of ways you can help young children make friends. Here are a few interesting ways to help your toddler make friends.
- Set up a play date for your toddler. Invite your neighbours' kids to come over and play with your toddler. Choose a time when your toddler is very cheerful and lively. Avoid times around her bedtime or when she is sleepy.
- Tell her in advance about the play date and that you would like her to share her toys with her friends.
- Start by inviting only one member to the play date. Too many friends (even two of them can be a crowd) can make your toddler hyperactive and make it difficult for her to handle them. You can call different toddlers each time you set a play date.
- Make sure that the initial play dates last only for about an hour. Beyond this, your toddler may get bored and cranky.
- Plan as many play dates as possible, as often as you can.
- During a play date it is advisable to have identical toys for each playmate. This will result in less biting and hitting. After a few play dates, you can slowly encourage your toddler to share her toys with her friends. If you cannot buy identical toys, it is a good idea to have toys that come in multiples such as building blocks.
- Select big and colourful toys for your toddler and her friends. There may be a lot of grabbing with both of them wanting the same toy. But, eventually it will be fun and you will find your toddler and her friends enjoying themselves.
- Encourage your toddler to distribute eatables such as biscuits or sweets among her playmates.
- Call older kids such as preschoolers in your neighbourhood area to have fun with your toddler. Some toddlers enjoy playing with children older than them.
- Tell her that her playmates are her friends and explain what friendship means. She may take time in understanding this initially but it will certainly help her later.
- Sometimes doing away with toys altogether is helpful. You can consider taking two toddlers for a drive or to the beach. When they do not have any toys, they will find ways of having fun with each other.
- Allow toddlers to resolve their conflicts on their own. Intervene only if it goes as far as hurting others around her. Initial hitting and biting are associated with your toddler trying to bond with her playmate.
- Show her how much you value your friends and enjoy their company. When neighbours come over, tell your toddler "Mummy's friends have come". Use this as an opportunity to show her how to be nice to friends.
- It is very common to see two toddlers playing side-by-side rather than together during a play date. This is called parallel play. Although most toddlers who are around 18 months old enjoy playing by themselves, they are aware of their playmate's actions. They enjoy imitating their peers and learning from them. Gradually by the time she is around four years old, she will start playing with friends. This is called associative play.