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Preschool and daycare can be valuable learning experiences for children, especially when it comes to making friends.

According to Ashton Barnes, lower school dean of students at Lawrence School in Broadview Heights, and Lesley Schwersenski, Genshaft Early Childhood Program head at Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood, making friends is an important part of development.

“Children make friends based on their level of development, as they need to be moving from parallel play for more complex play for friendships to occur, although very young children do enjoy playing in the same vicinity of other children,” Schwersenski said.

Barnes said being able to have friends at an early age helps with a child’s social-emotional well-being.

“When kids are able to feel like they belong within a group and are able to have friendships, this gives them the ability to be able to understand and manage their emotions,” he explained. “When you’re able to do that and able to control those emotions, it does benefit your academics. If you have a child struggling with making friends, they may be frustrated, sad or sometimes angry, making it hard to focus on learning.”

Schwersenski said children show they’re ready to make friendships in the classroom when they’re prepared for the emotional labor of it.

“Making friends is part of children’s development and usually occurs when children are ready for the give-and-take friendships require,” she added.

At Lawrence School, Barnes said teachers try to structure play time and social opportunities. Then, they can help with and supervise interactions.

“When kids do need those prompts or those interventions to figure out how to deal with situations like sharing, (teachers) can step in and suggest solutions,” he noted. “We also really focus on structured playtimes. These structured social situations are also used in older groups as well.”

It’s important children make friends and interact meaningfully with children their own age.

“Children learn from one another with their individual strengths and weaknesses encouraging learning, also known as the zone of proximal development,” Schwersenski stated.

Barnes added, “It’s very important for kids to have the same age peers and friends. Children learn from each other and when students can see someone who is displaying positive behaviors, kids tend to mimic things that are praised. ... Preschool kids can relate to each other, and being able to relate to another person is important for conversational skills at this age.”

Barnes added emulation of actions is especially important for children with learning disabilities. If they have something they can’t do yet, seeing their friends accomplishing things can inspire them.

Parents assume when they send a child to preschool or daycare, they’ll be fine and find friends easily during the day. Sometimes, that is the case and sometimes it isn’t. It’s not an uncommon worry, the professionals said.

“If a child is struggling to make friends, one of the best things to do is model with them,” Barnes said. “Even if they are playing with their toys and stuffed animals, get down there with them and model what they need to do. It’s getting to the root cause of struggling with making friends. And then even if they are struggling, it is important to keep trying.”

Barnes added the more children are exposed to different types of social situations, the easier it will be to make friends.

Schwersenski said, “Firstly, the parent should think about where the child is developmentally as perhaps the expectation is not on target with the child’s development. Discussing with the child’s teacher will certainly be helpful.”

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