Helping Children Build Friendships

Table of contents:

Helping Children Build Friendships
Helping Children Build Friendships

During their early years, young children learn a lot from the relationships they have with children their own age -, their peers. Some facts about friendship.


What do we know?

Children acquire:

  • Communication skills (expressing what they want and how they feel, asking questions, inviting other children to play);
  • Skills allowing the regulation of emotions (recognizing their own emotions and those of others, controlling their impulses, dealing with their frustrations);
  • Skills that promote conflict resolution (controlling aggressive impulses, suggesting alternatives, making compromises);
  • Cooperation skills (taking turns, imitating, reacting positively to the other, adapting to the other's point of view).

Learning to make and keep friends is one of the main stages of preschool and protects children against the development of later psychological and academic problems.

You can notice that some children, from the age of 3-4 years old, have difficulty in their relationships with other children. Between 5 and 10% ofchildren experience chronic difficulties, including exclusion and social rejection or verbal or physical harassment from their peers.

Difficulty relating to peers early in life is a powerful predictor of later emotional and behavioral problems:

emotional problems: characterized by loneliness, anxiety and depression;

behavioral problems: manifested by aggression, hyperactivity or oppositional behavior.

Children with disabilities, whether intellectual, behavioral, developmental or autism-related, or who have motor or language delays, often have less opportunity to interact with their peers and are often less well accepted by them. Limited in their opportunities to interact with socially competent peers, many of these children experience gaps in learning important social skills such as developing and maintaining friendships.

Be careful

  • what influences peer acceptance. Peer acceptance is greatly influenced by the child's relationship with his family (parents and siblings), by parental goodwill or discord, and by the child's own behavior.
  • the importance of preventing relationship problems between peers. Children who have difficulty relating to their peers are more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior, hyperactivityand opposition or being socially withdrawn.
  • to choose the most effective intervention program. Interventions implemented in the natural environment, including those in daycare settings, which bring together professionals and parents have been more successful.
  • the importance of training. Proper training of practitioners who implement social skills programs is necessary so that children learn the social skills necessary to establish and maintain positive relationships with their peers.

What can we do?

  • Support parents so they can use sibling conflict situations to learn important social skills, including conflict resolution.
  • Avoid grouping young children with aggressive traits.
  • Implement social skills training programs from preschool age.
  • Implement interventions that promote the development of socio-emotional skills:
  • Two types of programs have been shown to be effective: Universal programs aim to promote the social skills of all children in a group, and designated programs aim at children who show relationship difficulties. They aim to improve their social-emotional skills and their relationships with their peers.
  • Promote exchanges between families, educators and peers during interventions.

Find out about training methods forfollowing promising programs:

Universal programs for preschoolers

  • I Can Problem Solve (ICPS)
  • Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS)

Designated programs for preschoolers with aggressive behavior problems that interfere with peer relationships

  • Incredible Years Dinosaur Social Skills
  • Problem Solving Curriculum

Designated program for socially isolated preschool children from low-income families

The Play Buddy


Peer relationship: Helping children build friendships. In: Tremblay RE, Barr RG, Peters RDeV, Boivin M, eds. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Montreal, Quebec: Center of Excellence on Early Childhood Development; 2009. Available at. Page consulted on November 23, 2009.


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