Pre-schoolers making friends

by Jacqueline Harding. How to help your pre-schooler understand what it is to be a friend – and build on the new friendships they are making.

Boy smiling with triangle instrument


From the age of three or four, friendships can begin to take on real meaning for children – they begin to really connect and empathise with others.

So, how can parents and carers help their pre-schooler understand what it means to be a good friend, and build on the friendships they are beginning to forge with other children?

How CBeebies can help

CBeebies shows that deal with friendship – such as Charlie and Lola, Me Too!, Same Smile, Timmy Time and Tweenies - are such a positive way to help young children to begin see things from another person’s perspective. Let’s be honest - this is the bottom line when friendships are involved!

Try watching some of these shows with your child and use the many situations their favourite characters find themselves in to talk about how they might be feeling. Friendships are all about caring for someone else’s feelings

Talk through the following things with your child as they arise in the shows:

  • Sharing toys
  • Sharing attention
  • How to express yourself without hitting
  • Snatching things – how it comes across and why you shouldn’t do it!
  • Other real earthy things that young children experience in everyday friendships.

How to make a magic moment

Magic moments where friendships develop are often born out of a shared activity or experience. So setting up a potential magic moment for children might do them a great favour. At this age children have only just started to play together (rather than playing alone or just alongside others) – so it’s a big breakthrough to start actually playing ‘with’ someone.

Often just an inexpensive ‘something to do’ activity - such as providing them with some paper, glue and a selection of cut-out shapes or pictures from old magazines - is enough to get a couple of children having some fun together.

The young playmates will probably only be able to focus on one activity for around 15 minutes. So, it’s a good idea to have plenty of things to do. Creative activities are often best (you could try play dough or painting/colouring-in activities too).

Children still need adults to be around at this age – so it won’t really be an opportunity to put your feet up as they will need help in sharing their possessions or sorting out minor disagreements before they escalate.

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Top tips

  • If you organise a
  • playdate, be prepared with several simple activities for the young playmates to
  • try together. Keep playdates quite
  • short so that they can end on a successful note. Too often they can drag on and
  • end in tears. Read books to your
  • child where the characters fall out and make up. Praise your child for
  • any positive behaviour when they are playing with another child – e.g. if they
  • share one of their favourite toys. You could say something like: ‘That was very
  • kind [sharing your toy like that]. What a lovely thing to do. You are being a
  • good friend.’ Be a positive role
  • model as often as you can by displaying good examples of friendship to your
  • child.

Expert opinion

Learning how to be a friend is one of the best skills you can help your child achieve and it will last all their life.

Jacqueline Harding, Child Development Expert

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