From organizing playgroups to attending mom and baby classes, these early social interactions can help lay the foundation for your child’s future friendships. Here’s how to help your little social butterfly interact.
Research shows that children with friends have a greater sense of wellbeing, higher self-esteem and fewer social problems as adults than those without friends, according to the NYU Child Study Center in New York. Fortunately, there are things you can do to guide your children into healthy, fulfilling friendships—and it’s never too soon to start. “Even little kids in car seats love watching other kids play,” says Alyson Schafer, a psychotherapist and author of Breaking the Good Mom Myth. “They learn just from watching, which is why it’s important to start exposing them to other children right from the get-go.”
During a child’s early years, helping her feel secure in her relationship with you is the first step toward building friendships. “How secure your child is with bonding and her attachment to you in that initial year of life can translate into how comfortable she is interacting with other kids later on,” says Carol Shirley, a registered psychologist in Halifax.
You are also their first model for how to behave in social situations. From watching you, they learn what a conversation looks like, as well as how to negotiate, co-operate and function socially. But they actually learn how to be friends from interacting with other children, says Schafer. “They have to experience it,” she says. “Just like you can’t talk them through riding a bike, they have to get on and feel it. There’s a lot of social learning that happens when kids are together, so it’s important to make a point of getting them out into groups of children.” Even infants interact, so joining a moms’ group early on will have social benefits for both you and your baby. Initially, young children engage in parallel play and tend to talk “at” one another as opposed to “to” one another, but all of it is an important part of social learning.
If you don’t know any new moms to organize a playgroup with, not to worry. Using your community is a great way to give young kids exposure to other children—whether it’s a library program or a moms-and-tots drop-in at your local centre.