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The Power of Friends

4-Year-Olds

When kids reach the age of 4, they begin to see themselves as part of a more complex social scene. "Children start to form groups, although these aren't by any means cliques yet  -- the groups are still pretty fluid," says Bostick.

Your child may not know how to join a group, whether it's her classmates at school or a bunch of children at the playground. "You can start by giving her some words, such as 'Hi, I'm Lucy, and I'd like to play too.' Or you can encourage her to come up with an idea for a game or to think of ways she can fit into one that's in progress," says Wallace. "She can offer to be 'It' or anything else that will make the other kids want to include her."

If there's a particular group that she wants to be friends with, you can invite one of its members or even the whole gang to your house. Or ask them all out to do something fun together, such as go to a movie. "Including them will encourage them to include your child," says Wallace. Besides, it teaches her that friendships are often made by finding common ground.

Of course, while 4-year-olds grow more socially adept every day, they can still act, well, like children. Most kids don't have a lot of impulse control. In the heat of the moment, they just act.

Ann Gault of Verona, NJ, keeps an eagle eye out when her nearly 4-year-old son, Billy, plays with his buddy Trevor. "They fight quite a bit," she says. "I try to let them work things out for themselves. But if they get to the point where they're about to hurt each other, then I separate them and try to reason with them." Sometimes she'll even end the playdate and tell Billy that he and Trevor can't play together for a couple of weeks. "I think it's worth it to let the kids cool off a little bit and then try again. Having different types of friends is a good thing  -- and playing with Trevor has helped Billy learn some diplomacy."

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