Sometimes children can be timid or reticent to do something that is new, like a new activity in the playground. But the presence of a friend, somehow makes these challenges appear much smaller. When one child does it, the other one learns that it is doable and their resistance disappears. While many parents look at this as risky, as one child may lead another to a risky venture, the positives far outweigh any perceived negatives. This group experience also teaches children the importance of a team and how team members can motivate each other.
Children do not always share objects easily even when playing with friends. As parents, we tend to focus on the times when our children and their friends argue over a toy or a book, the negatives. But often, they do tend to share and they learn to take turns with the toy or book under argument. Also, while your child may not realize it, she is also learning to compromise. In a pretend play situation like a doctor and patient. Children will negotiate so that one child is a doctor, while the other has to be a patient who just lies down. A patient can be a boring role, but a required role. Or they may compromise in a different way with both being doctors and using a doll as a patient. Either way, they learn that each has their own desires and that unless they reconcile them, they will not be able to play together.
While preschoolers typically do not form cliques or act as bullies in a traditional sense, some maybe timid while others maybe more assertive. Having friends around helps the timid ones state their complaint loudly, if an assertive kid is taking their turn or grabs a book from them. Similarly, it helps the assertive kid, because his friends may tell him that he should not grab or snatch things from other children. Either way, friends step in and help a child reach socially desired behaviour.
- Keep play dates small. Start by inviting only one or two prospective pals to your house, preferably kids your child already knows.
- Plan ahead. Orient the play date around games and activities your child enjoys and is good at. This will make him more comfortable and keep him feeling good about himself.
- Get involved. Don't just leave the kids to play by themselves and hope for the best. Your guidance can make children feel more at ease with each other, especially if they're new friends. Make yourself available in case they run into conflicts, get distracted and stop playing together, or need a change of activity.
- Get a schedule, then get going. To develop familiarity, try to arrange regular play dates with the same kids on a weekly basis. If things are going well, meet in a park or playground or at another child's house.
- Be a play date yourself. Have regular play times with your child, just the two of you. This allows you to stimulate interaction while getting to know his playing style.
- Consider getting a pet. Some young children just aren't ready to play with peers. If your child clings to you and refuses to leave your side, consider adding a furry friend to the family. Playing with pets requires social interaction but is usually nonthreatening.
- Have your own friends over. Since young children pay close attention to what grown-ups do and often imitate their behavior, model for your child by having your friends over, especially in ways that include the younger generation.
- Try not to expect too much. Preschool-age children play mostly side by side, imitating each other rather than playing together directly