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The Power of Friends

5-Year-Olds

By kindergarten, most children are social beings, with a range of friends they cherish and who cherish them. "Though they're perfectly able to pick their own playmates, they still need to learn how to assert themselves and to choose buddies who treat them well and make them feel good," says Bostick.

Your child may be playing a lot with someone who never lets him take the lead, for example. "This is an age where you can begin to talk to kids about what that feels like and what kind of friendships they'd like to have instead," says Wallace. Teach your child phrases that can help him get what he wants, such as "It's my turn to be the leader" or "I want to be first today." Or tell him he can try playing with someone else who's better at turn-taking.

If you have even the slightest concern about just how well your kindergartner is navigating his social world, volunteering to help out in the classroom or going along on a field trip can let you see him in action for yourself. And don't wait for conference time with the teacher to talk about the situation.

Over time, your child will likely gravitate, as most of us do, to the people he has fun with and the ones who really do care about him. That, of course, is the best outcome. Despite their rowdy moments, my son, Dan, and his friend Tom can be sweet and gentle with each other. When we were moving to a new house and Dan was having a tough time with it, Tom was the first to offer comfort: "We still live near each other," he assured my son. And these days, Dan will even offer his friend first crack at the PlayStation.

When I ask Dan what he likes about Tom, he's pretty straightforward: "Everything, Mom," he says. "We're best friends. I think we'll always be friends."

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