Humans are social beings and it has been proven and said many times over that we thrive in a community. Many parents send their children to a nursery to socialise and make friends, and they are right to do so. So how do children make friends and develop social skills? Is it down to personality or is it a skill that can be taught?
From birth, we have a natural desire for interaction. Babies respond to happy and expressive faces of their parents and carers and search for attention and reaction. It is important to satisfy this need as it makes children feel secure and confident to explore further. Toddlers mimic and play alongside each other, but the interaction is not really meaningful as their social skills are not developed enough at this stage. They observe other children and copy what they are doing, especially if it's something naughty that gets a reaction from the grown ups!
Around the age of three, the interactions between children become more meaningful. They form attachments outside of their immediate circle and begin to make relationships with other children based on common interests. Natural curiosity brings children together and they join in if another child is playing with something that they particularly like - ddressing up, heroes, cars, drawing, lego, football, puzzles, dolls or any other activity.
How can you support this?
1. Teach children about boundaries, sharing, taking turns, empathy and how to interact in society in general. Play is more enjoyable when the basic rules are in place.
2. Do not force interaction. If your child does not have the same interests as your best friend's child and does not want to play, it's ok. Children are creative enough to keep themselves busy and will most probably find something in common when the pressure is off.
3. Model, model, model. Children observe, take on board and copy even (or especially) when we think they are not looking. Let them see you with your friends, talk about their qualities, things that you like to do together and how you help each other. Talk about and introduce them to your wider circle as well (friends from sport club, church, work etc) to learn about community and different interactions.