Children’s friendships reflect not only their age and developmental level but also their individual temperaments and personalities. Some children are very social and want lots of friends, while others are happier with a few close friends. Both are okay.
As parents, it’s important to separate our feelings from those of our children. An extroverted parent might worry, for example, if their child prefers just one or two friends. As long as your child feels good about their friendships, there’s usually no cause for concern.
Learn more about how children develop friendships at each age and stage and find tips on nurturing healthy social-emotional growth.
Infants and Toddlers
Infants learn about the world through their senses and enjoy tactile experiences like exploring water or sand. They stack toys to watch them fall, pound objects together to make noise, and open cupboard doors to find out what’s inside.
At this age, children don’t have the language or social-emotional skills to engage in complex play with other children, but they are learning about human relationships. Even very young infants can learn caring behaviours and have been observed responding to another infant’s distress. In group childcare settings, infants and toddlers often form bonds, yet they generally play side-by-side (parallel play) rather than together.
How to help your infant or toddler develop social-emotional skills:
Early Preschool (Threes)
As two-year-olds and young preschoolers develop language, play becomes more involved and interactive. Friendships can spring up over shared interests like building ramps together with blocks or scrambling over a climbing structure.
How to help your preschooler make friends:
Older Preschool (4S and 5S)
Around the age of four or five, children’s play becomes more complex. They enjoy pretend/role play (playing house or superheroes), board games, and active games. Some children like rough-and-tumble games. Other children may enjoy doing crafts together. Children are becoming more social at this age, and often prefer to play with other children of the same gender. They might also prefer certain personality types over others.
How to help your older preschooler make friends:
At this age, children still form friendships around activities and common interests. Active playground games, such as, “hide and seek,” are nice for breaking the ice because they’re fun, engaging, and non-intimidating. Encourage your child’s social interaction at school, too. Get to know other families and plan get-togethers with them. Team sports and after-school clubs offer other opportunities for your child to make friends.
How to help your primary-age child make friends:
Remember, young children develop social-emotional skills over time, and some children are naturally more socially aware than others. Observe your child to understand what they need and desire from friendships. Keep expectations realistic, and offer gentle, graduated support.