When your son in kindergarten makes a new friend in school, this little buddy may likely be more than just a fun playmate. This early friendship can enhance your child's social skills and even protect against behavioral problems in later grades.

According to researchers at the University of Illinois, early high-quality friendships offer many social and behavioral benefits in later years. High-quality friendships typically involve sharing, turn taking, cooperation, and low levels of hostility. Researchers found that this type of friendship - while important for all children - is especially meaningful for boys.

In a longitudinal study from kindergarten through third grade, results revealed that boys with no close friendships in kindergarten, and boys with low or moderate quality friendships, tended to display more behavioral problems in the first and third grades.  Overall, girls were observed to have good social skills in the first and third grade regardless of the quality of their kindergarten friendships. The results of this study were published in a recent issue of the journal Infant and Child Development.

Friendships Matter

Peer relationships become increasingly important in children's lives as they grow. Kindergarten offers a wealth of opportunities for boys and girls to learn how to relate to friends in positive ways. When young children learn to get along with others, resolve conflicts, and enjoy each other's company, these experiences lay the foundation for positive relationships later in life.

What You Can Do

How can you help your kindergartner enjoy high-quality friendships? Here are some suggestions:

–Start at home. You are your child's first and most influential teacher. When you model positive interactions with others - in your home and your community - your son or daughter will learn valuable lessons about how to treat people with kindness, respect, and compassion.

–Take the initiative. As your child grows, he'll be much more likely to choose his own friends! However, during the early years, you have plenty of influence in terms of organizing play dates and inviting friends to come over. Make an effort to help your child develop friendships at this age.  

–Offer guidance. When you host a play date, make sure you're available to help the children take turns, get along, and resolve conflicts peacefully and effectively. Strike a healthy balance so that you're not hovering or stepping in to solve every minor disagreement. Instead, keep a watchful eye on the play date so you can offer tips and strategies to help the kids get along and work through conflicts when indicated.     

–Seek additional support. If you have concerns about your child's ability to make and keep friendships, or have other concerns about his mood or behavior, seek professional guidance.

About the Author

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and speaker specializing in parenting and child development.

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