Few people appreciate just how hard it is for children to make friends. While friendships can promote a child’s social and emotional development, making and keeping them can be tricky. Ms Palethorpe, Goodstart Early Learning national manager and former kindergarten teacher and lecturer, said parents have a huge influence on their child’s social skills and their ability to make friends.

“Learning issues and resistance to taking turns, sharing toys or giving attention to others poses social challenges for children,” Ms Palethorpe said.

Children learn and construct new knowledge and learnings when they make friends, and they learn how to relate to others, respond to challenges, regulate their behaviour and develop social skills and confidence.

“We know from a young age children initiate playful exchanges with other children, however, to develop these exchanges into positive friendships, young children should be supported to develop appropriate social skills.”

These skills include turn-taking, sharing and listening as well as recognition and respect for the feelings of others.

Families can support children by role modelling appropriate social behaviours, encouraging children to develop their skills and by having realistic expectations of them.

“There will be times when sharing is just too hard and this is why in early learning centres, as children are learning these skills, there will be multiple copies of the same resources to support children with this learning.”

Ms Palethorpe shared simple, everyday ways that parents or carers could encourage and develop a child’s social skills to help them make friends.

1. Help your child feel safe and help them learn to trust other children and the environment. 

For any connection to form with another child, children must first feel safe. Trust is built once a child feels they can trust other children, adults and the environment.

For babies and toddlers, Ms Palethorpe suggested parents sit on the floor and play with their child, and other children, and talk about what they are doing.

“Your child will see this behaviour and soon learn that it is safe and okay to interact with the other child or children.”

Ms Palethorpe explained this was why Goodstart educators made strong connections with families, in order to forge trust with not only the family but through the family to the child.

2. Facilitate connections with other children.

Once a child has built a sense of trust, Ms Palethorpe said it was important to facilitate connections with other children.

“People often think that children automatically know how to start playing and engaging with other children, but this may not necessarily be the case. Children often have different temperaments, past experience or may not have had the previous opportunity to play and engage with children.”

Ms Palethorpe said parents should look at what was going on within the environment and find ways to connect their child with other children, and engage them in a positive social interaction.

On weekends, Ms Palethorpe suggested while playing near other children, parents could for example say, ‘Georgina, this little person has come over to play with us. She might want to join in on our play. How about we offer her a shovel?’ The interaction helps connect children with each other and helps them learn to share.

3. Model appropriate social behaviours.

Children and adults can learn through social interactions, Ms Palethorpe said.

Creating or leveraging everyday interactions can help children learn fundamental social skills such as greeting other children, turn-taking, sharing or listening.

To encourage sharing, at the park Ms Palethorpe suggests saying, ‘Oh look Sam, Peter has come over to play with us. He is smiling and being friendly. How can we invite him to play?’ or ‘Oh look, that little person is smiling at us. How about you say hello and ask if he’d like to play with us.’

“These are all little things that you can do each day that will help your child connect with other children and develop their social skills to make friends.”

The Goodstart Early Learning Capability Team develops high quality, evidence-based professional learning materials to improve early childhood practice and knowledge of children’s development, learning and wellbeing across Goodstart’s network of 643 centres.