The Tempestuous Nature of Preschool Friendships

Eliza Clark
March 8, 2009

Watching our preschoolers navigate their social worlds always amazes and often shocks us. The things they say to each other!

There are the proclamations of everlasting love: "You are my favorite friend in the whole world, forever and ever!"

And the just as passionate reversals: "I'm never going to be your friend ever again!"

Listening to all of this soap opera while pushing a swing at the playground can make your head spin. Where do they come up with this stuff?

The more we listen, the more we hear these and so many other kinds of interactions and comments being passed on from child to child through a socialization process in which we parents play very little part. That being so, is there anything we can do ease them (and ourselves) through the wild ups and downs of their friendships?

One idea on the subject from the inexhaustible Practical Wisdom for Parents strikes us as very wise. The authors, Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum, urge us not to overemphasize any single friendship in a child's life. Even if your child is particularly drawn to one friend, and they seem to have so much fun together, to begin labeling him or her a "best friend" puts too much pressure on the little ones always to play together. As they rightly note, friendships at this age are fluid and constantly changing and that is as it should be.

And as parents, we try to not to take the kiddos' extreme statements to each other too seriously, unless something has visibly hurt somebody's feelings. So often, words that would be devastating to an adult ("You are not my friend!") roll off these playmates like nothing at all. They understand their own high-drama, low-stakes language of friendship far better than we do.

From the Parents

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