The Secret to Making Friends for 3- to 5-Year Olds

Playdates teach preschoolers how to be a good pal, so be sure to schedule plenty for your child.

By Ilisa Cohen
Apr 26, 2013



Boys (7-9) drinking through straws in park

Apr 26, 2013

AGES 3 to 5
Have lots of playdates

Playdates give kids this age the chance to practice two very important skills — controlling their emotions and communicating difficult feelings. Pretend play especially is a good way for kids to share their deepest fears and comfort each other, two key components of mature friendships, notes Steven R. Asher, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Duke University in Durham, NC.

For instance, Claire Turner, 4, was playing house with her pal when their pretend baby died. “I know that sounds morbid,” admits Claire’s mom Beth, of Dobbs Ferry, NY, “but my mother had passed away a few months before, so Claire was just trying to work through the concept of death.”

Playdates also give your preschooler chances to work out frustrations when things don’t go her way. “When kids have fewer tantrums, they get to play longer and are more in control of their social interactions,” says Michelle Anthony, Ph.D., author of Little Girls Can Be Mean and P&C contributor. “And that helps them become more independent and creative.”

How You Can Help
Don't butt in.The upside to playdate tiffs: Your preschooler can learn how to compromise and resolve disagreements. Instead of swooping in to solve the dilemma at the first sign of trouble, monitor it. Then chime in when you feel things are getting too tense (say, if you hear whining) by asking the kids how to fix the problem first. You’ll be surprised at how well they can figure out a solution.

Name the feelings. To help prevent playtime meltdowns, teach your child to label his emotions (“Are you sad that you can’t play with the dinosaur?”), recognize others’ feelings (“How do you think Jenna felt when the blocks fell down?”), and comfort his pals (“How could you help make Aiden happier?”). That will likely decrease the number of playdate squabbles.


Book Buddies
Stories to explore the ups and downs of palling around.

Ages 3-5

Lost and Found
by Oliver Jeffers

Alex and Lulu: Two of a Kind

by Lorena Siminovich

Moon Rabbit
by Natalie Russell

Raising Kids
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3