Tips to Help Your Preschool Child Make Friends

Toddlers are very content to sit next to another child and play, each doing their own thing, basically ignoring one another. But as children grow and develop, this “parallel play” transforms into a need for social interaction. By the time children reach the age of 4 or 5, the need for friendships and playing with peers becomes very important to children. But for many children, wanting to play with friends does not mean that they know how to make it happen. When the desire is there, but the skills are not, children get frustrated. They may become aggressive as they try to get other children to interact with them. Or you may notice children becoming reclusive as they try to avoid the frustrating situation.

As a parent or caregiver, you can help. Successful play experiences, and eventually friendships, require important social skills like empathy, problem solving, and communicating. Children who have difficulties in any of these areas may have a harder time making friends. Here are some strategies to support a child’s social development and encourage friendships:

  • Bring your child along as you go out in the world and interact with others. Children learn by watching and seeing you successfully interact with people you don’t know very well can help your child to learn some of these skills.
  • Give your child many opportunities to meet and interact with peers. Whether through play dates, group activities like story time, music classes, etc. or frequent visits to a local playground, the more your child is able to meet and interact with peers, the more opportunities he will have to develop and practice emerging social skills.
  • Pay attention to your child as she navigates play opportunities. Watch her verbal and non-verbal interactions. How does she approach peers? Does he play cooperatively? Is he able to communicate with playmates? Is there a pattern to when and how problems arise? Once you have a better idea of where or why your child is having troubles playing with others, you can better support him in developing new skills.
  • Model the behaviors that you would like to see in your child. Listen to his thoughts, feelings, ideas and stories. Be kind to others, greet them, give compliments, show empathy. Avoid complaining. Have a sense of humor about your own weaknesses.
  • Help your child to see her strengths and feel good about herself.
  • When arranging play dates, start small. Begin with one friend for one hour and then gradually increase the length of time and number of friends as your child’s skills grow. This will help to avoid frustrating or overstimulating your child.
  • Don’t be afraid to guide your child through activities as he learns about social and behavior expectations. You don’t need to be a “helicopter parent” but instead support your child as needed to encourage success.

Friendships are  important to young children and learning how to start and maintain friendships is an important life skill. Like everything else, children are not born with these skills and some will need more guidance than others as they navigate the world of friendships.

Making a Difference Every Day

Whether you are a teacher, a parent or a child care provider, your simple, every-day interactions with children are powerful. The way you say “good morning”, the way you show your support, the simple questions you ask or comments you make can build confidence, self-respect, inspire learning, provide motivation and build a stronger relationship between you and your children.

These “powerful interactions” don’t have to be complicated. Simple moments like these can do wonders for a child’s self-image and interpersonal relationships:

  • Say good morning with full eye-contact and your full attention. A hug is great too!
  • Sit quietly next to a child while the are absorbed in a task or project and watch with your full attention. You don’t even have to say anything. A simple smile of awareness or appreciation for their efforts lets them know you’ve noticed them and value their abilities.
  • Catch a child being good and thank them for their actions.
  • Ask permission before joining in a child’s activity.
  • Acknowledge children’s emotions- you don’t have to agree with their behavior, but let them know you understand or are aware of their feelings.

These simple actions can help you to make a difference in a child’s life every day. Do you have a favorite simple moment to share?

Encouraging Self-Control in Young Children

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, nothing is more frustrating than trying to manage a child who struggles with self-control. To be successful with friends, in school and in life, children need to learn how to control their bodies and manage their impulses. For some children this comes naturally, but for many others, it takes work. Here are some strategies for parents and teachers:

  • Make sure your home or classroom is safe– close off areas of the room that you don’t want children to access. Put away objects that you don’t want children to touch. If some things can’t be removed from your space, teach children how to handle things carefully and praise them when they do.
  • Be reassuring and supportive– no matter how independent or “tough” a child may seem, all young children need to feel confident in the love of the adults in their lives. Be aware of the subtle (or not so subtle) signals that your child sends you to let you know they need your support. Take the time to snuggle often and don’t make fun of them for needing a hug. Lots of love when they are young will help them develop a stronger sense of self and confidence.
  • Show confidence in your child’s abilities– “I can do it myself!” is a phrase young children say often. Take them at their word and set up the experience to be successful. This might mean having non-breakable cups and small pitchers on hand so that children can pour their own drinks, or setting aside more time to leave the house so that children can put on their coats and hats by themselves. If they make a mistake, help them to fix it without judgment. Offer a sponge to clean up spills. Don’t chastise the child for spilling. We all need to practice new things.
  • Offer choices that match a child’s ability– If your toddler doesn’t want to get ready for bed, offer a choice of 2 pajamas to put on. Invite your preschooler to pull a wagon or ride a tricycle when you go for a walk. Giving children the power to make choices shows them that you are confident in their abilities. Even discipline can be accomplished through choices. “Would you like to use a quieter voice and stay here with us, or would you like to leave? Your job is to set up appropriate choices and follow through. Start with just 2 for toddlers and more for older children.

Children are a lot like adults. When we feel we have no control over our situations we get frustrated. Children often act out just to have a voice. With these tips we can let them know we hear them, we love them, we trust them and we can give them the opportunity to be successful with some appropriate responsibilities.

Do Babies Really Understand Words?

We’ve all been told to speak to our babies to encourage their language development, but how much does an infant really understand? New evidence shows that they understand quite a bit!

A recent study out of the University of California, San Diego shows that baby brains process words just as adult brains do. This flies in the face of the idea that baby learning is more primitive and with time the brain processes information in a more sophisticated way. You can learn more about this study in this article in PsychCentral.

So, talk to your baby. Use real words. Read with your infant. Create an environment full of wonderful language and know that every word is soaking in.

As for future implications of a study like this, I worry it may be used to support the idea that even infants should be placed in a “school setting” similar to that of older children. I hope it will help people to see that even older children would benefit from the more holistic, integrated natural learning environments that help babies to thrive.

Invest in Early Ed and Care- The Video

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This video is worth so much more! Through the voices of 4 children (an infant – 4 years old) we hear and see the effects of poverty and a lack of a positive environment in the early years. The video clip is targeted to New Mexico legislators, but the facts and statistics presented apply to every community across the country. We can invest in children and save money. It’s a win-win!

Understanding the Emotional Health of Children

In the month before school started, my 6 year old daughter became an emotional time bomb. She would seize up with anxiety over what many might think of as typical kid activities- riding a bike, going to the swimming pool, even playing the wii. I was worried. Did she have an anxiety disorder? Should I allow her to skip out on these activities without a second thought, or should I push her to “get over it”?

Thankfully, once the school year started and the looming “unknown” of a new school transformed into an ordinary routine, the anxieties faded. She’s still a cautious kid, but she is no longer paralyzed with fear.

We live in stressful times. More and more children are being diagnosed with serious emotional disorders like anxiety and depression. Parents and caregivers worry about the emotional health of their children. When is a behavior normal, and when should we take it as a signal of something that needs addressing?

Keeping Young Minds Healthy is an article by Jeffrey Kluger that appeared in Time Magazine. According to this article, “about one in five children in the U.S. suffers from some sort of emotional or behavioral condition.” Kluger goes on to provide very helpful information for understanding when a behavior is normal and when the condition should be looked into further. Here are a few common issues and guidelines:

  • Anxiety– it is common for separation anxiety to be cyclical, peaking at around 8 months, 2 yrs and then again around age 5. If children beyond this age continue to dread separations because of fears of their safety or their parents’ safety, and if children constantly ask “what-if” questions (“what if there’s a fire?” “What if we get into a car accident?”) they could be having more serious anxiety problems.
  • Depression– moodiness and sensitivity are common personality traits and are not a signal of depression. Nor is sadness triggered by an event. If your child also has a loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and seems unable to enjoy things in general, then you might want to look into the problem further.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive– most obsessive or compulsive behaviors in children under age 8 are just a normal part of development as they learn new skills or try to feel more in control of their world. But if these behaviors get in the way of your child’s happiness or ability to be out in the world, there may be an issue.
  • Attention Deficit (ADD/ADHD)– most children have moments of hyperactivity, difficulties staying on task and limited impulse control. This does not mean they have ADD/ADHD. But if you feel the behaviors are extreme- if your child is rarely not hyperactive, rarely on task and completely unable to control impulses, you might want to look into it. Symptoms usually become noticeable between the ages of 3 and 6 years.

If you do think your child might be struggling with a serious issue, look into it. Addressing these issues when children are young can be very helpful in preventing more serious problems down the road.

Music as a Bonding Experience

Routines and rituals are important. They help to guide children through transitions (cleaning up, starting the day at school, getting ready for bath or bed, etc.). They connect us to our past, our cultures, our communities. Songs can be an important element of any routine or ritual, and by singing with our children, not only are our voices connecting, but our hearts are as well.

At a recent event for Gryphon House authors I had the opportunity to meet Jackie Silberg, a very kind person, wonderful musician and prolific author. She is a wealth of information about music and young children. In her blog she promotes music as a family experience and provides several example of how music can bring families closer together. She begins with infants, and goes on to give family music tips for all ages.

When you hold a baby and sing to him, all of his senses are stimulated. He hears your voice, he sees your face, he smells your  body and  feels your vibrations as you sing.

Through song we can be present with children, even if we are not right next to them. We can guide their actions through gentle words and music. Songs can teach children about seasonal changes or prepare them for big events. Traditional songs also help children connect to the past and to their greater community.

Teachers and families can learn from one another when it comes to music. Parents who struggle with transition time issues can use music to prepare children for a change of activity or place. Learn or make up clean up songs, bath or bedtime songs, travel songs, etc.

Teachers can move beyond typical transition or large group songs and explore sharing a song with an individual child or small group. Get silly with a child or two and make up songs together.

The holiday season is an especially wonderful time to make the effort to bring positive musical experiences into your home or classroom. With all that is going on families and teachers are stressed. Kids feel this and it effects them. Music is a great stress reliever. Just by sharing a song we can build and reinforce positive relationships with our children.

For ideas on how to share music with your infants and toddlers, check out the WoW Kits Making Music with Little Ones Bag or Binder.