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5 Friends All Kids Need

5. The Friend He Chooses

WHERE TO FIND HIM: You don't need to! You're done playing matchmaker.

WHEN HE'S GOLDEN: 4 to 100+

INVITE HIM OVER BECAUSE: When your child picks his own friends, it's a major step toward independence.

TO MAKE IT WORK: Realize that from now on, your kid will be making new friends -- some you like better than others. With that in mind...

  • Don't freak out. Every parent eventually hears "Mom, can I go over to so-and-so's house?" You don't know the kid, you don't know the parents, and you feel like you're embarking into a scary new world. Take a deep breath and calm down; this is a step every child must eventually take.

  • Check in with the other family. They'll be expecting your call. It doesn't mean you think they're ax murderers; it's just standard operating procedure among parents of school-age kids to chat up the parents of prospective playmates. Then watch for red flags, like their kids' talking about violent video games. Keep the first playdates short and sweet -- or meet at the playground so the adults can chat.

  • Step back. If you think your child is being hurt, by all means intercede. But for the most part, put your Mama Bear instincts on hold and let kids work out disagreements; learning to resolve conflict -- or even end a friendship -- is a lesson they need to learn.

  • Let your kid bask in the new friendship. Your child is likely to go on and on about his pal -- so encourage that, says Maureen O'Brien, Ph.D., author of Watch Me Grow: I'm One-Two-Three. At this age, kids start thinking about what makes a good friend: "They move away from thinking merely in terms of 'We have fun together' to 'Why do I like this particular person?'" O'Brien adds. And that's a sweet question for everyone -- at any age! -- to ponder.

Charlotte Latvala writes frequently for Parenting.