Friendships, the bonds that children develop with important peers in their lives, bring pleasure, comfort, sometimes distress, and almost always important opportunities to learn and develop in a social world.
In fact, establishing relationships with other children is one of the major developmental tasks of early childhood. Friends, beginning in the toddler stage, can help children feel good about themselves, help the child adapt more easily to early childhood environments and help the child build self confidence.
True friendships can be seen in children as young as 2½, but it is more likely to appear in three- and four-year-olds. Children will then have more readiness for the ‘work’ that it takes to maintain friendships. Please do not underestimate the value of these early friendships. They help to support children’s emotional and social development and their understanding of the world around them.
Of course, sometimes it’s hard to see these benefits when your child’s play dates involve lots of squabbling over toys and your child’s buddy keeps bopping him on the head when he doesn’t hand over the truck. The quality preschool staff sees these as learning opportunities: Conflicts erupt because children don’t yet have the skills to mediate disagreements. Early childhood educators spend a great deal of time reminding children to ‘use your words’ rather than hitting and grabbing. Parents supervising preschool friendships often have to do the same thing — so plan to stick close.