Toddlers and friendship

by Jacqueline Harding. What you can do to encourage your toddler to play with other children and make new friends.

Children with laptop


Can toddlers really make friends? Surely, they are too young (or at least so busy defending their own toys) that they haven’t the time or energy to make friends?

And is there anything that grown-ups can do to help children build the skills they need to become a good friend – even at this early age?

How CBeebies can help

Standing and staring at other children - this is exactly what toddlers like to do. Rude? Not at all, it’s just the way they absorb everything that is going on around them and figure out how other children (and grown-ups) act with others.

At this age, children play mostly on their own, and will tend to relate more to adults than to children. They love to copy adults and will try to do the things we do. So, although it might look like they are not interested in others – they certainly are. And, they are very busy storing away ideas for how to engage with others.

This is where good role models come in and can be particularly useful. Watching other children, playing alongside them - and certainly watching other children on shows such as Balamory or Same Smile - sets up a kind of a template (a working model if you like) for how to behave towards others.

How to make a magic moment

It really is a magic moment for us grown-ups when our young child first begins to express true affection for others. It might be them offering their favourite toy to a child who is feeling sad, or a hug for granny after she dropped her favourite vase. These are the signs that the seeds of empathy, kindness and understanding are beginning to flourish.

Why not set up a pretend tea party with your child and invite all the toys? Play games… and don’t forget that the toys have to share the prizes. Good fun and great practice for the real thing.

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Top tips

  • As often as you can, tell your
  • child positive things about who they are – e.g. tell them that they are fun and
  • clever. This can really boost their confidence in who they are and will help
  • them (when they are ready) to make new friends. Sharing toys is a big issue at
  • this age, and comes with practice – so the best way is to spend time with other
  • children in different situations. Begin to encourage your child to
  • include other children in a game they may be playing. Praise your child after they
  • have played with another child/made a new friend. For some children this is a
  • really big achievement. You could say something like: ‘Wow, that was lovely
  • playing just then! I’m very proud of you.’ Perhaps arrange playtimes with
  • other parents/carers who live nearby - invite their children to your home (or
  • vice versa). This will encourage friendships - and give the other parents a
  • break for a while!

Expert opinion

A friend is one of the nicest things you can have - and one of the best things you can be.

Douglas Pagels, Author and editor

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