3 Ways to Help Kids Make New Friends

It’s funny to see the different personalities of my two daughters. One loves reading quietly, while the other enjoys singing loudly around the house. One keeps her art supplies perfectly ordered, while the other has glue stuck on her dresser. The joy of seeing each one embrace their interests and strengths extends beyond our home. Take, for instance, when we venture to the park. One approaches a group of older children and jumps right into to play. The other hangs back, taking her time to interact with new peers.

It’s not always easy for children to make new friends in the playground, school, or neighborhood. “As young children explore friendship, they rely on their relationships with adults for support,” says the California Preschool Curriculum Framework. We can provide opportunities for our kids to play with other children and practice positive social skills.

Here are three simple ways to help children make and maintain new friendships.

Making Friends: “Jump in the Air” Game

Help break the ice among children with a simple, no-supplies-needed game called “Jump in the Air.” The goal is to visually show children how much they have in common and what makes them unique. To start, have kids stand in a line or circle. Then, give them a quick prompt. You might begin with, “Jump in the air if you ____.” You can fill in the blank with “like puppies,” “have a sister or brother,” “have ever baked cupcakes,” or whatever you can think of. Kids jump if they agree or if the statement applies to them. By visually seeing who jumps, they get to know quick facts about each other and find commonalities and differences.

Then, promote more social dialogue. Encourage your child to follow up by asking related questions. For example, “What flavor of cupcake do you like best?” or “Is your sibling older or younger than you?”

After a few rounds, and as they get more comfortable, give the children the opportunity to make up new prompts. Sit back and watch as they start talking together.

As the game shows, children might have different abilities, personalities, appearances and interests. See how we can help celebrate differences, like in this “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” video about how friends can be different and the same. Try to be as inclusive as possible for all new friends. Switching the prompt to “Bark like a puppy if ____” or “Make a silly face if ____” considers children who might have different physical and cognitive abilities.

Watch Daniel Tiger discover how friends can be different and the same.

DANIEL TIGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD | Friends are Different and the Same | PBS KIDS

Being Friends: Compromise

Finding common ground establishes a friendship, but children may need help maintaining their relationships. It’s common for conflict to arise in new friendships as children navigate play. As Daniel Tiger sings, “When we want to play in our own special way, we sometimes forget about our friends,” but children can always “Find a way to play together!” like Daniel Tiger. Listen to the “Find a Way to Play Together” song and talk about how new friends need to find ways to play that they can enjoy together.

We can help children practice compromising. In the “Donkey Hodie” episode “Best Friend Day,” the pals disagree on what to do for Best Friends Day. Rather than spend the day apart doing different things, they compromise and find something to do together. Watch the “Best Friend Day” episode and talk about it. Create experiences for children to play together. For example, rather than having kids fight over one toy, we might bring out shareable play dough or building blocks and have children practice compromising on which to select.

Finding ways to play and compromise is especially important for friends with varying abilities. We might encourage children to play with bubbles rather than loud objects if a child has sensory sensitivities. Or, staying in one spot playing catch rather than running while playing tag can make the game more accessible for all children. Showing kids these small ways to compromise can have a significant impact on friendships.

Maintaining Friendships: Stay Connected

Staying connected to peers when far away sets the stage for longevity in friendships. As children form bonds, “their interactions become stronger with mutual communication,” says the California Preschool Curriculum Framework. Here are a few ideas you can try:

  • Help kids write, illustrate and send letters, or send a high five handprint in the mail.
  • Embrace technology by helping your child send pictures and emojis safely or participate in video chats with friends. Be sure to have permission from the recipient before sending anything.
  • Host a virtual storytime lunch! Practice compromise as the friends pick out a book from the list below and enjoy a snack together. Make “Donkey Hodie” placemats for your special lunch for added fun.

Extend the learning on friendship with free digital kids books available from PBS KIDS and the Los Angeles County Library:

  • “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!” (Ages 3-7), written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Marybeth Nelson, tells a story about Elmo meeting and maintaining a new friendship with Julia, who has autism.
  • “Daniel Plays at School” (Ages 3-5), written by Daphne Pendergrass and illustrated by Jason Fruchter, explores friendship and compromise in play with Daniel Tiger.
  • “Curious George Joins the Team” (Ages 4-7) by HA Rey celebrates how kids of all abilities can play together.
  • “Clifford’s Birthday Party” (Ages 4-8) by Norman Bridwell, featuring “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” shows that the best part of a party is the people who celebrate with you.
  • “A New Friend” (Ages 3-5) by Maggie Testa, featuring characters from “Dinosaur Train,” is a great friendship story for emerging readers.

As the saying goes, make new friends and keep the old. We can do this by giving our children tools to make new friends while also modeling and building the capabilities of maintaining a relationship. And that, my friend, is gold.

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