Children today are involved in social situations at younger age, and they are spending more time with peers than they used to. With more parents of preschool-age children joining the work force, more children are in child care settings.
Recent studies have found that some friendships formed in the early years of childhood are second only to family relationships in importance. From such findings comes a heightened awareness of the social and emotional importance of friendships in the early years.
Enrollment in an early childhood program offers children social experiences that might not be available to them in relationships with adults or siblings. With many friends her own age, a child encounters lots of opportunities to negotiate and compromise. Children are encouraged to express opinions and ideas, as well as to respect others.
Interaction with and acceptance by peers have long-term effects on a child’s life. Preschoolers develop social competence in three main areas: initiating interactions, maintaining ongoing relationships, and solving conflicts with other children.
While some children easily join a group at play, others have difficulty. As adults, we can help young children learn social strategies for entering play groups or for talking to other children about what they want. Watching for a few minutes and then saying “I’ll be the sister. Okay?” works better than “Hey, let me do that!” And “That’s a nice building. Would you like to build a bridge to it?” is more effective than “I want to play with the blocks, too.”
We need not be too concerned when children frequently change best friends. A friendship may last only for an afternoon of play.
Family Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs
National Education for the Education of Young Children
Deborah Diffily and Kathy Morrison, editors; 1996; pg 82.
However, if a child does not seem to have any special friendships at school, he may benefit from one-on-one time with one of the other children outside of the early childhood setting. Playing together a few times outside of school often gives two children a level of comfort with each other that carries over to their time at school.