Family, Kids & Relationships

7 Tips for Helping Young Kids be Social and Make Friends

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When children are between three and five years old they begin to transition from parallel play, where they play near other kids without much interaction, into cooperative play. It’s a fun stage!

But daycare, playdates, and even playground visits require social skills that may be rusty thanks to all the recent social distancing—leaving some parents of preschoolers worried that their kiddo may be behind. 

Here are seven ways you can help ease your child’s transition from “on my own” to “ready to mingle.” Social relationships help children understand themselves and others, so helping them get started on the right foot can be so helpful.

Play pretend.

Practice social skills at home with pretend games. For example:

  • Take turns being “host” during a make-believe tea party to get them used to sharing and compromising.
  • Act out a social scenario, like wanting to play with a toy someone else has, so they can try out different things they might say or do and safely explore the possible outcomes.

Remember you’re a role model every day.

Parents and other caregivers are natural role models, so make sure you show your child the warm, friendly behaviors—like waiting your turn, sharing your things, listening, and asking others’ opinions—that you want them to use when they’re around other kids.

Handle bad moods with compassion.

It’s easy to dismiss your child when they’re in a sour mood, or to snap when it’s you who’s cranky, but those are perfect moments to exhibit empathy and connection. After all, for friendships to flourish, they’ll have to weather a few storms. 

Showing compassion for others—and yourself—gives them a great example of how they should treat friends.

Provide secure social environments.

This is especially helpful for an anxious or shy child who has trouble connecting with people right away. Look for clubs or group activities that interest your child, like storytelling at your library, swim lessons, or even simple, one-on-one playdates at home, where they’re most likely to feel secure.

Talk about healthy ways to “fit in.”

One of the hardest things when making friends is figuring out how to join playtime that’s already in progress. Discuss friendly ways to approach others, like asking to join politely or by participating in a relevant way (like offering to be a customer at their pretend restaurant).

Bonus: It’s also a good idea to mention what not to do, too, such as being critical or trying to change the rules to suit you.

Let them take the lead sometimes.

It’s important to allow kids to be in charge from time to time, if we want them to show the same courtesy to others. Friendship requires sharing the spotlight, and by giving your child the floor—and your attention—you show them what that give and take looks like.

Engage in activities that explore emotions.

  • Draw what a happy playdate looks like
  • Explore safe ways to express frustration
  • Read together and ask your child how characters feel

Exploring feelings helps kids develop empathy, see things from others’ perspective, and gives them language to let others know how they feel (which can really cut down on fights and misunderstandings with all those new friends)!

Looking for specific activities that help young kids develop social skills? We have you covered!

Still worried about your child’s social skills? Find more tips below:

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.