Learning what it means to be a friend takes time. As adults, we know how nice it is to have friends, and how important friendship is. So we look for signs of friendship between children while they're still very young. Sometimes we place too much emphasis on their friendships with other children, or worry that they don't have a best friend. This is because we often expect them to master the nuances of interaction with other children far too early.
Two-year-olds think other kids are fun, but would prefer to have the other child's things
Only at two to two and a half do they really start noticing each other. It's not so much the other person they are noticing as the things they are playing with. At this age, it's about taking things from one another and defending them. This is a natural part of development. As adults, we may then start looking for signs of friendship between the children, but they still need to develop before this can happen. They're still too focused on themselves to have really good playmates. They parallel play but can't interact yet. You can perhaps start to gently persuade your baby not to take things from others. This is the first step towards interaction and playing together. But give it time.
Three-year-olds start being able to interact and play
While still immature in terms of social relationships, they now start to show enthusiasm in regard to other children. They start to play more actively with one another, in pairs or in groups. They progress from parallel play to playing together. Words like “we”, “friend” and “I” become part of their vocabulary. Children practise taking turns to do things, and can talk politely and obligingly with one another about playing an actual game or make believe.
Research on three-year-olds and play
Interestingly, the research shows that from three years of age, children are more aware of and talk more to the other children at nursery than they do to the adults. But do they become buddies? This can take a bit of time. Becoming friends with someone starts with practising spending time together, sharing things, showing respect and having fun. Just as it does for adults.
Sooner or later, most children will find friends they are happy with. Some children take longer than others to make friends. That's life. We're not all the same. We look for different things in our friendships. Some people look for friends to have fun with, while others look for people who share their interests, such as cars or dolls. Interests can change, and so can our friends.
How to help your child make friends
In time, we learn to be friends if we have an opportunity to practise playing, sharing and showing respect. Start with just one friend. Help them to get started with games that they can play together, but don't expect too much. Stay nearby, make sure they're interacting, and remain neutral. Avoid piling the pressure on – it should be fun for everyone involved.
As a parent, you can do various things to foster your child's interest in playing. You can play with baby yourself, encouraging them to initiate games. You can make sure your child gets to meet friends of the same age, and take him or her on walks or to the playground to play. Acknowledge the ideas your child comes up with when playing!
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Baby's first playmates and friends
As a rule, it's too early to expect your two-year-old to have friends in the way that older children or adults do. But at three years of age, children start to play nicely together.