Teaching Friendship Skills in Preschool
Growing a Garden of Goodness, not a Palace of Perfection
Parenting preschoolers in the realm of friendships takes time. Aside from Christ, nobody is perfect, so show your child grace as they navigate the tricky nuances of building relationships. Here are some tips to help guide you through some of the challenges that come with parenting preschoolers.
Smile and Look for the Good
There is power in body language!
A cheerful heart and a happy look draws others to us. Even little children want to be around others who are friendly and smile often, adults as well as other children.
Teach children to see what is good and right in situations and in people. We are their role models for what is important to focus on. Talk often about the virtues you notice in people. Even our littles can learn to gossip about others, so be conscious of what you say and whether it is critical or empowering!
There is a song you might know; it goes like this… “Oh, be careful little tongue what you say… for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say!”
When there are crossed arms, glaring eyes, and pouting lips to contend with… and there will be, here is something to try. Grab those grubby little hands in yours, smile and verbalize in a gentle tone how they might be feeling. Their feelings are real. You are not passing judgment on the validity of those feelings, merely naming them: mad, sad, disappointed, etc. Once the child feels heard, you can initiate a conversation and discuss a solution.
This gives the child practice in how he will deal with a friend who is disappointed. It grows vocabulary. It models empathy.
Empathy: thinking about how others are feeling. Empathy is one of the most important relationship skills we can impart to a young child. It takes practice. We are not born empathetic.
A cheerful look brings joy to the heart.
1 Timothy 6:20
Turn away from godless chatter.
…pleasant words promote instruction
2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments.
Let your conversation always be full of grace.
Encouraging, helping, sharing, complimenting others: basically do nice things FOR and with others.
The home is the first place where kindness is modeled. When you notice your child doing a good deed for others, acknowledge it. “I noticed you brought Dad his water. That was thoughtful!” If you notice the good, preschoolers start to notice the good in others.
Beware of shallow compliments. If you only compliment the external (how cute/handsome, etc), then those are the qualities that a young child will find his/her value in. Notice gentleness, compassion, patience…growing the virtues of the fruit of the Spirit will help the child become a good friend!
Activity: Don’t cry over spilled milk.
The next time your preschooler spills (because he will) respond with empathy. “Oh, dear! Would you like me to show you how to clean that up?” Work together. Don’t ‘do for’; do with! Talk about how good it feels to help when someone makes a mistake or has an accident.
You model compassion, empathy, and self-control (because you didn’t overreact- right? You didn’t, because it was just a spill. The relationship and lesson are more important than the dirty floor. Don’t yell.) You are creating a safe place to fail. Home is a sanctuary for kids. Young children who have been shown grace typically extend that more readily in early friendships.
Two are better than one.
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Preschool Conflict Resolution/Apologies
Conflict equals crisis in the eyes of a preschooler.
Typically conflict arises when a young child does not get his way. A friend WILL take your toy, WILL say mean words, or WILL refuse to play with you.
Conflict is important. The best little friends have learned healthy conflict resolution under the purposeful direction of their caring adults. Conflict is inevitable in humans~ even little humans!
Those same little humans do not grasp the relationship between cause and effect. Conflict is the perfect opportunity to help a child think through his actions even if it’s after the fact. Learning will take place. Budding friendships will grow through the resolution.
When the tears are streaming, listen to both sides. What the duo is feeling is real. They can’t explain them; they can only ‘feel’ them. They do not have a toolbox of coping skills to eradicate them. Sometimes, it’s just tears.
Matter-of-factly restate what each child is saying. We are not judge and jury. We are mediators unless safety is a concern.
Ask questions. “What happened right before he knocked you down?” “Oh, so you accidentally stepped on his toe?” You will often discover a chain of events that will lead to a double apology needing to take place.
An apology should be more than a quick, “I’m sorry.” It should be a complete thought. “I am sorry for taking your crayon. Please forgive me.”
Require a complete sentence because that is where the learning is taking place. Sometimes in the emotional drain of the moment, preschoolers forget WHY they have to say sorry, and merely do it to restore order. We are training to restore relationships, not just stop tears.
In the preschool classroom I teach our young friends to accept an apology by saying, “I forgive you.” Too often we as adults flippantly say ‘it’s ok.’ In reality, it is not ok, and preschoolers are literal. To them ok means ok, and the lesson falls a little short. We want to train preschool children to be sincere friends, honoring each of their peers as Christ does. We love because He first loved us. He is our model of what a true friend should be.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition.
1 Thessalonians 5:15
Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and everyone else.
1 Peter 2:17
Show proper respect to everyone.
Give careful thought to your ways.
A friend loves at all times.