When Your Child Starts Making Friends
There is almost nothing more precious than seeing your toddler make best buddies with his pals at school for the first time. Before the 21st century, sociologists actually claimed that toddlers in the 1 to 3 set were incapable of making social connections to develop actual friendships. But, research shows that social time for young children is incredibly beneficial to their learning and play environment.
BabyCenter.com points out that making friends and socialization is an important milestone in your baby’s growth. “During the first year, your toddler focused mainly on developing physical skills such as grabbing and picking up objects and learning to walk,” they note. “As your child learns to talk and communicate, he’s discovering other people and how fun it is to try to elicit reactions from others…Now is when your toddler will start to really enjoy the company of other kids, both his age and older.”
Still, playdates can have the potential to go awry. Here are our tips for navigating a playdate with your kiddo and their BFF to inspire camaraderie and sociability for a successful encounter, while also staying in control:
- Monitor behavior. While “helicopter parenting” isn’t the idea here, it is a good idea to keep a close eye on how your kiddo and his BFF interact, especially starting off. Offer an activity to the kids that’s indoors or close by, like playing a card game or playing with dolls.
- Remember you’re the boss. Even when your kid or her friend does something you don’t like, it’s okay to play the adult card and say things like, “we don’t act like that here and if your behavior continues, you’ll have to go home” or if you’ve given this playdate your best shot and now your patience is waning, “five more minutes until it’s time for your friend to go home as we need to spend some time as a family/we have to eat dinner/we’re going for a walk/insert other reason here.”
- You’re also the coach (and the referee). Your guidance can make a positive difference in your child’s social skills and sometimes narrating the emotions you observe in an exchange can help little ones better understand what their friend is feeling and find a way to react appropriately. Simple language like, “Max seems sad because you took the toy he was playing with” or “Jane really enjoys climbing the jungle gym with you” can help your child develop their emotional intelligence and recognize what their friends are feeling in order to react appropriately.
- It’s okay to say “no” to your kid’s guest. Even if you come up with the perfect reason why your kiddo’s guest needs to go home now, both kids might come back to ask “why” or see if they can both be part of the next activity, like going for a walk. It’s okay to say “no” to your kid’s friend and when they still ask “why,” it’s okay to channel your inner Dianne Keaton and respond with “because I said so.”
Remember that your child sees something special in the kids they choose to spend time with. Maybe they witnessed a side of someone that they liked, whether they fended off a bully, said something really smart in class or shared their favorite toy. BabyCenter.com encourages parents to support this natural socialization that happens with all kids. “Kids naturally love and gravitate toward other people, especially other children. As your child grows, he’ll learn more about how to respond to others in social situations, and his enjoyment of their company will likely grow,” they note. “Children this age learn a tremendous amount from watching and interacting with others. When your child understands how to empathize with other children and appreciates how much fun it is to have playmates, he’ll develop truer, more lasting friendships.”
And if your child is lucky, they’ll find a friend in preschool that they keep for a lifetime.