If the kids are like…
Matt and Ben (2 to 5)
These twosomes love to get together—but usually just to do their own thing!
Official bio: They're friends, but like their screen-writing/acting counterparts, they often prefer solo projects. “Sometimes they'll have a playdate where they ignore each other,” says Amy Kahn, a mom in Newton, MA, of her 3-year-old, Josh, and a pal.
Behind the scenes: Not to worry. It's common for so-called parallel play to last from toddlerhood all the way through preschool, usually interspersed with collaborative moments. “Many children will remain comfortable doing parallel play until they learn the social skills for social play,” says Edward Christophersen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, in Kansas City, MO.
Your job: Plan the occasional activity for both kids, and demonstrate how friendly interaction works. Says Laurenti: “Role-model good eye contact, problem solving, and how to be a good sport.”
If the kids are like…
Regis and Kelly (3 and up)
They're opposite-sex besties, but platonic.
Official bio: Unlike their TV counterparts, they work off-script, defying boy and girl stereotypes. Never pictured your son pretending that Barbie is burping a baby T. rex? When these kids play, anything goes.
Behind the scenes: Though older kids may tease them (“Ooh, are you in looove?”), they can be some of the happiest, most well-rounded friends. “It makes her more open to sports and physical play,” says Wilson Moy of Tulsa about his 4-year-old daughter Julia's get-togethers with boy buddies. “It's not all about princesses.”
Your job: Even good friends need breaks from each other. If Regis gets bummed when Kelly decides to play with someone else (or by herself), say “Maybe Kelly will want to play later,” suggests Rebbecca Jackson, a preschool teacher from Blacksburg, VA. Then help him find something—or someone—to distract him. As for teasing from the big-kid contingent, teach your child to let it roll right off. Explain that boys and girls can like each other just as pals—and if you have opposite-sex friends yourself, be sure to point them out.