You are here

Why First Friends Matter


No one wants to think about her child alone on the monkey bars, but kindergarten friendships may be even more important than you realize, especially for boys. Boys with high-quality friendships in kindergarten—think lots of sharing, turn-taking, and peaceful ends to squabbles—had fewer behavior problems and better social skills by third grade, according to a study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Since teamwork is a big part of learning, kids who have trouble adapting are at a disadvantage academically. Here's how to move things in the right direction:

Don't be afraid to raise the issue with the teacher. Say “What social skills does Jack need to work on?” rather than blurting “Does Jack have any friends?” suggests Liz Rampy, who's been a kindergarten teacher in South Carolina for a decade. It's an awkward spot to put her in if the answer is no. Some schools offer social-skills programs, so ask if there's a “friendship club” or “peer group” your kid can join.

Break out books that showcase good friendships, like Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel. But any book can serve as a model if you ask questions like “Emily Elizabeth and Clifford are friends—how do they look out for each other?” Rampy points out.

Act out solutions to playground problems: “Next time, ask Ben what he wants to play. I'll pretend I'm Ben so you can practice.” And because little kids gravitate toward empathetic classmates, praise kind gestures by pointing out the positive emotions that go along with them: “You must feel really proud of yourself that you shared your brand-new Transformer with Dylan.”

Step in if it looks like fixing a conflict will be tough for your child. Set the alarm on your phone, explaining they have two minutes to decide how to make things better. Then—whether they succeed or not—it's snack time (or outdoor time, or anything-distracting time).