Forming Bonds of Friendship in Kids

Published on: July 20, 2019

There is so much more to making friends than just playing nicely. In this article, Jana imparts key lessons on what we parents can do to encourage our kids to establish friendships.

By Jana Carlson

Even as an adult it is difficult to navigate the delicate intricacies of socialisation, relationships, and friendship. There are gentle tugs of give and take, sharing spaces and ideas and understanding complex social cues that have been developed over a lifetime. At first, it may seem that the earliest friendships formed in the playground or across the sandbox should be simpler. 

Establishing relationships with other children is one of the major developmental milestones in early childhood and there’s a lot to learn about how to be a good friend! As a kindergarten teacher and a mummy, these are the key lessons I teach my children to help them become good friends and establish enduring friendships:

  • Use gentle hands – the concept of personal space can take a long time to learn and some kids are prone to pushing or shoving to get where they need to go. Sometimes, when confronted with a problem that seems overwhelming, children will resort to becoming physical to express themselves. Rather than scolding I recommend taking your child’s hand and showing them how to touch others gently like demonstrating a tap on the shoulder to ask others to move. Modeling gentle and appropriate touches can show your child how to use their gentle hands when playing.
  • Use kind words – this can be difficult to learn as young children are still developing their vocabulary and communicative skills. But it is important from a young age to model and act out appropriate phrases such as “Can I have a turn when you’re finished?”, “I’d like to play with you, can I join in?” and “Excuse me, I need to get past you.”
  • ‘There is enough for everyone’ –  this is a phrase I have recently switched out for the tired old “sharing is caring”. I read it in ‘Here We are’, a beautiful picture book by Oliver Jeffers and it has proven to be surprisingly effective in helping to resolve sharing disputes both in the classroom and at home. It provides an opportunity to talk about what else might be available to play with, to work together to establish a turn-taking schedule, or to come up with a way that the children could play with the same toy together.

These points aren’t by any means exhaustive but they do provide a solid basis for children to play together nicely when followed. It is key to remember that, just like learning how to count or read, children also need to learn how to socialise.

Children who have played nicely in the past may suddenly change their behaviours as they hit a new developmental milestone, are placed in a new environment or are around different people. Don’t be dismayed if your child seems to take a step backwards when it comes to socialisation–persisting with positive conversations about appropriate behaviours will help and role-plays with an adult or using toys can be very beneficial for children to practise their kind words and gentle hands. 

Providing your child with opportunities to socialise with other children is also essential as two children being in the same vicinity can be sufficient for a quickstart friendship to form. My three-year-old son, bursting with unchecked enthusiasm will point at an unknown child at the playground and wildly announce: “that’s my new friend!” and disappear into the distance, hand in hand with his new playmate. Such zealous friendships may be quickly won but are usually forgotten just as quickly. 

Don’t be dismayed if your child seems to take a step backwards when it comes to socialisation.

Whether it’s a dispute about how they should play or time to go home, children will often part ways easily. However brief, these encounters are crucial to helping children learn social skills that they will be able to apply in other scenarios. So frequent opportunities for your child to socialise with their peers are essential.

Kindergarten is a great option for your child to be guided by teachers and BAMBI offer many playgroups all over Bangkok that parents or caregivers can attend. Trips to local playgrounds or play centres can also be fantastic as at early ages, friendship can transcend language barriers or age differences.


Photos courtesy of the author.

About the Author

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Jana moved to Bangkok in December 2014 to pursue love and sunshine! She completed her Masters of Education at the University of Western Sydney in 2011 and has been working with children for nine years. She is passionate about early years education and currently works at Berkeley International School as a K1 teacher. Jana lives with her Khmer husband, Sorm, their three-year-old son, Hero and 18-month-old daughter, Aura.

The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.

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