Around the time kids turn four, their social drives kick in, making them more motivated to make friends.
But friendship can be complicated.
For kids of all ages, making friends can be both incredibly hard and rewarding at the same time. It can also be challenging to realize that friends don’t always get along, but it helps them develop a sense of what it means to be a good friend.
For young kids, the best way to combat these challenges is by making them concrete. Play with puppets, act out scenarios between friends, and (my favorite!) read books about friendship. While kids might not be eager or articulate enough to talk about their own friendship issues, books can be a great way to check in. It can often be easier to empathize with book characters than with the complexities of real-life friends. By strategically choosing books to read and talk about, kids develop important social and emotional skills.
Check out these ideas for using books to teach three key friendship lessons:
Friendship Lesson: Friends Don’t Always Play Together
This can be a hard one for kids to understand. Kids quickly learn the power of saying “I’m not your friend anymore.” But even though this phrase can be said often, kids rarely mean it. Just because friends aren’t playing together doesn’t mean that they’re not friends anymore. But for the child who is being excluded from playing with her friend, this is a tough one. So here’s where books come in!
A great book for teaching that friends can do other things while still being friends is My New Friend is So Fun by Mo Willems. In this book, Gerald the Elephant becomes upset when he finds out his best friend Piggie is playing with Brian Bat. As you read this book, ask your child if she’s ever experienced a similar situation. Talk about what it’s like to be on both sides by asking your child to think about both how Gerald feels and how Piggie feels.
Friendship Lesson: Friends Stand Up for Each Other
The book One by Kathryn Otoshi is a beautiful exploration of what it means to stick up for a friend. The characters in the book are all colors, with Blue being the shy protagonist. Red likes to pick on Blue, yelling at him and making him feel bad. None of the other colors stick up for Blue, until a character named One arrives. One sees how Red is acting and stands up for Blue. By the end of the book, all the colors and numbers are getting along beautifully.
As you read the book, talk about what it means to be an ally. Explain that friends stand up for each other because they care about one another. Ask your child to make a connection to one of the colors or numbers in the book, thinking about if she’s ever experienced a similar situation with her own friends.
Friendship Lesson: Friends Disagree… and Make Up!
Among many other friendship lessons, How to Be a Friend by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown shows kids that it’s okay for friends to disagree. A world without arguments sounds dreamy, but it’s unrealistic. By teaching kids how to listen to each other and resolve disagreements, we’ll be setting them up with important tools to use throughout their lives.
As you read all these books, talk with your child about what it means to be a good friend. Brainstorm a list of qualities to look for in a friend and ask your child to think about both times when they have been a good friend and when they could have been better. Now that you’ve started the conversation, make sure to keep talking about friendship, both in real-life and in the fictional worlds you explore together.