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Making Her First Friends

Michele Rosenthal

If the kids are like…

Paris and Nicole (4 and up)

They're the very best of buds—except when they're having one of their frequent fights.

Official bio: Sometimes girls, sometimes boys, they're proof that frenemies come in many sizes. “One minute they're each other's best friend. The next I'm hearing horror stories,” says Arlington, TX, mom Reace Smith of her 4-year-old, Helena, and her friend/nemesis, Abby.

Behind the scenes: Hours after angrily kicking over his frenemy's block tower, your little one may race up to him, all smiles. “It's just part of kids trying to figure things out,” says Smith. “They're little experimenters.”

Your job: If your kid's the victim, help her plan a response that doesn't involve defacing her frenemy's Polly Pocket (“What can you say to Fiona?”). If she's the aggressor, ask her to apologize, but go further. Jackson often tells students, “Ask your friend what would make him feel better,” frequently with heartwarming results. It's good to live and learn (whether you're a playground princess or a hotel heiress).

If the kids are like…

Shaggy and Scooby-Doo (4 and 5)

In a weird—but common—move, one kid pretends to be the other's pet.

Official bio: These friends slip into animal/owner roles that can stretch across multiple get-togethers. For close to a year, in fact, my son's pal spent every playdate in the role of a black Lab.

Behind the scenes: Being a dog, cat, or hamster for a while can be great for kids. “It's part of beginning to build empathy for things other than human beings,” says Charles A. Smith, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University, in Manhattan, KS. But if your kid often winds up as the puppy, does it mean he's destined for life as a follower? Not necessarily, Gold says. “In the preschool years, it's often about trying things on for size.”

Your job: When your child longs to change roles, help her come up with some assertive lines (“Jason, it's your turn to be checked for fleas!”). Set a timer so the kids take turns, and remind them of the Golden Pet Rule: Scooby-Doo Unto Others.

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