Looking around a preschool classroom, you’ll likely see children playing excitedly with one another. Friendships are one of the most fun and beneficial parts of being a preschooler. But making and keeping friends can be challenging for young children. It’s essential to teach young children how to make friends and maintain healthy relationships with others.
Good relationships between people of all ages are based on some core values: respect, kindness, understanding, and empathy. Preschool-aged children often need help to develop and use these skills while making friends or simply interacting with others out in the world.
This article will explore some of the ways educators, parents, and caregivers can foster friendships, including some fun activities to boost social skills in the classroom. Reach out to the team at Little Sunshine Preschool now to learn about how our incredible educators nurture friendships in the classroom or to learn about our wonderful school.
Filling the Toolbox: Teaching Social Skills in the Classroom
Young children often exhibit challenging behaviors when facing a boundary, setback, or frustration. You may see children arguing over a toy, having tantrums when they can’t have what they want right away, or being verbally or physically aggressive with classmates over a minor slight.
These behaviors often stem from children not having the social skills and tools they need to manage challenges. Young children don’t have the life experiences, education, or emotional “tools” that older children and adults have, so they may resort to unfriendly, destructive, or defiant behaviors.
Part of an early childhood educator’s job is to give children opportunities to develop and practice good social skills in the classroom. Teachers can patiently provide lessons, activities, and other types of learning that can give young children the skills they’ll need to make and keep friends throughout their lives.
Here are some of the skills teachers can work on to foster friendships in preschool.
Empathy means being able to recognize and relate to other people’s feelings. It is one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship, even during the preschool years. Teachers can promote empathy in their students by:
- Talking openly about feelings
- Pointing out how characters in stories are feeling
- Asking children to imagine how friends or characters in stories are feeling
- Encouraging children to help classmates when they are hurt, scared, or sad
- Regularly verbalizing what emotions they’re seeing: “You look so proud of your art project!”, “Your face looks a little worried about the new game we’re playing.”, etc.
It’s important to encourage empathy and reinforce it regularly in the classroom.
Young children may exhibit different behaviors during a conflict–just like adults do. Some may quickly become aggressive, some may become distressed, and some may simply give in to what the other person wants without too much argument.
Some young children find it challenging to manage a conflict without resorting to destructive or aggressive behaviors. Others may need to be taught how to set boundaries or stand up for themselves.
Teachers, parents, and caregivers can help children develop good conflict-resolution skills by:
- Talking about respect, boundaries, and managing conflicts respectfully as a group
- Intervening when conflicts between young children escalate or become dangerous
- Teaching children language to use during conflicts: “I don’t want to play that way,” “Can I have a turn with that when you’re done with it?”, “I’m not finished with my snack/art project/the toy yet,” etc.
Encourage children to ask for help navigating conflicts instead of giving in or acting aggressively. It may be possible to teach kids how to calm their bodies when they are angry through simple breathing exercises or taking a break.
Working well with others can be one of the most valuable skills people can have at any age. Cooperation can be a challenging concept for young children. Before they develop deeper empathy, children have a self-centered view of the world–and this is completely developmentally appropriate.
Learning that others’ points of view, skills, and ideas are valuable often takes some time and effort. Teachers and parents can help children develop the ability to cooperate by:
- Providing educational activities that require cooperation: games, art projects, classroom tasks, and more
- Reading stories about characters that learn to work together and reinforcing this value in the classroom
- Modeling collaboration by asking other staff to help you with tasks
- Praising cooperation when you see it in school or at home
Talk about the benefits of cooperation and give children many opportunities to practice it. Explain that it’s OK to ask for help when needed because the class (or family) is a team that works together.
Learn More About Fostering Friendships in Preschool
We believe that play, friendships, and enrichment are the ideal foundation for success in kindergarten and beyond. Reach out to the caring educators at Little Sunshine Preschool now to learn about our outstanding school or to schedule a tour. We look forward to welcoming your family for a visit soon.