Surprise, surprise! There are gender differences in the way boys and girls tend to develop friendships from as early as three to four years. Generally, girls are better at empathising and have a stronger ability to read other children’s moods and emotions, whereas boys tend to focus on common interests: a computer game, football or playing with tractors. Girls bond with small groups, while boys have a wider, but more casual, circle of friends.
Your child is reliant on you for a wide friendship circle, so provide a diverse choice. They will learn to adapt their behaviour to a wide range of children of both genders and with all types of personality.
Avoid the “best friend” syndrome where your child plays with one main friend to the exclusion of all others, and is left feeling lonely if the best friend is away from school, moves away, or finds another “best friend”! Talk about how great it is to be part of a wide circle of friends, using yourself, siblings or friends as a positive example.
Get the timing right when friends come to play and you’ll boost the success rate of the liaison. Choose a time of day when your child is unlikely to be tired, hungry, moody, or just wants to chill. Supply plenty of snacks as children can become so engrossed in play they forget they’re hungry, and get moody. Break up the party before the playmates fade to ensure parting is a sweet sorrow.
Help new school starters to understand the rules of making friends by letting them practise empathy, making it clear how certain behaviour could affect a friend. At home, if they hit out or snatch anything from you, say: “When you do that it makes me feel sad.”
Children can often lose their cool when friends visit, due to a mixture of excitement and the stress of sharing toys or trying to impress their new pals. Don’t be put off if it doesn’t work well first time. They need your guidance to learn how to interact successfully.