Your pre-schooler is probably picking her own pals by now but she still needs you to show her how to get along.
WORDS DR NICOLA DAVIES
Young children usually have a natural interest in making friends and will spontaneously engage each other in play. This is why your child's pre-school years offer a valuable opportunity to teach them about prosocial attitudes and behaviours. Here arefive ways to help your child become the perfect playmate.
1. Provide Playmate Opportunities
The more your child interacts with her peers at an early age, the more social experiences she accumulates too. Therefore, it would be a good idea to look for other parents nearby with children of a similar age and arrange regular play dates for your child. Your child doesn’t need lots of playmates – a few consistent friends are enough to help her establish emotional and social bonds beyond the home environment.
These opportunities allow kids to develop sophisticated social strategies such as how to deal with conflict, as well as teaching them what goes into maintaining meaningful and satisfying relationships.
Regular play dates also become the training ground in which young children
get to practice positive social behaviours, and learn to observe
and experience the consequences of both
antagonistic and prosocial actions.
2. Play with Your Children
It’s a good idea to schedule opportunities for fun parent-child interactions. Parents who indulge in pretend play with their kids help them build and learn about social relationships with peers. The key is to keep these interactions with your child positive – follow your child's lead in games, show eagerness to play, and avoid criticizing the little one's ideas. Children whose parents play with them often in a cooperative, cheerful way tend to show positive, social skills with pre-school peers.
3. Teach Your Child About Emotions
Another crucial social skill to instil in kids from an early age is emotional competence – the ability to recognise feelings and learn how to express them appropriately. It is also about acknowledging the feelings of others and knowing how to respond. Parents who openly address emotions with their kids help them learn to better understand and regulate their own emotions, especially when they engage with playmates.
One way to accomplish this is to talk to children about feelings when the time is right. For example, let your child know that when she said or did something, it made you feel a certain way. Point out that when you saw her grab a playmate's toy without asking, it must have made her friend feel upset. Explain what you mean in an understanding, calm voice.
TV and books can also provide opportunities for teaching kids about emotions. If a TV or book character feels angry or victimised, use it as an opportunity to discuss emotions. You might want to highlight reasons for a character's behaviour and talk about the kinds of feelings she might be going through. This is a great way to teach kids about empathy; what it must be like in another person's situation. Kids who learn about, and get the chance to show, empathic behaviour tend to make the best playmates.
4. Teach Sharing and Taking Turns
Teaching your young ones about sharing and taking turns requires tremendous patience, tactfulness, and consistency.
Learning to share is not easy for kids – they tend to think about ‘right now’ and
not about the implications of their behaviour for the future. For example, they might worry
about getting their toys back or be reluctant to share because they have plenty
of experience of not getting their toys back!
The idea is to try and give children some degree of control over when they hand a specific toy over to a playmate, and not insist that they do so immediately. For instance, you could say something like, “Why don't you play with the toy truck for 10 minutes, while your friend colours some pictures in the colouring book. When the 10 minutes are up, I would like you to give him the toy, and then you can do some colouring, watch TV, or help mummy.” It's also a good idea to explain to your child why she should not play with her newest or most beloved toy when playmates are coming over, knowing that she will have a hard time sharing it.
5. Model How to Deal with Rejection
It is a reality of pre-school social life that every child will face rejection by peers at some point. How your child deals with this depends on many factors, including what she observes about your behaviour as a parent when you are confronted with rejection. Some kids are naturally resilient when their effort to engage a mate in play meets with rejection. They might suggest alternative games; for instance, your child might say, “If you don't want to play ball with me, then why don't you come up with something we can do together.” Alternatively, she might suggest that they play a game together tomorrow or some other time. Some kids, however, can become antagonistic, sulk, and might even interrupt a playmates' game in such a situation.
One way to help kids deal with rejection by peers is to model appropriate responses when you play with your child at home. Offer suggestions you know they will reject, and then behave the way you would like them to behave when they face rejection by peers. Discuss how you feel when your child says no to an invitation to play, but come up with positive, alternative responses. For instance, you could say that you like playing with her and ask if she has any ideas for activities you could do together. Should your child insist on playing alone, you might conclude in a calm manner that perhaps you will play together another day or when she feels ready. Tactful parents will refrain from making their child feel guilty or telling them they are bad kids because they don't want to play with others.
When all is said and done, if you can be a perfect playmate your little one is likely to be one too!