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Understanding Preschool Friendships: 6 Things to Know

Understanding Preschool Friendships: 6 Things to Know

Last weekend at my daughter’s soccer game, my almost 4-year-old son sat huddled with a friend under a shared blanket and played trucks together. Minutes later the boys were running around an abandoned baseball field playing pretend baseball. In a blink of an eye, they lost all interest in each other and moved onto other interests – mom’s iPhone. What appeared to be short attention spans is really a glimpse at typical preschool friendships.

Establishing friendships has not been an easy journey for my son. In his first year of preschool, he struggled with self-control, regulation and respecting personal space. He still does to some degree. His teachers reassure me that his behavior is typical for preschool boys. Yet, I often question the process despite these assurances. I worry that he is too rough, that he doesn’t always understand the rules of a game like his peers, and he’s just a little bit “different from other kids.” After this weekend, however, I see that he is making strides in sorting out this friendship thing — and me too. Here are some insights about preschool friendships that I’m learning along the way.

Understanding Preschool Social Development

1. They play together. Unlike the parallel play of toddlers, preschoolers actually play with other children. They have the capability of recognizing unique qualities in other kids and can find common interests using their growing verbal skills.

2. They can share – but are still practicing. Sharing is a hard skill for most children but preschoolers are becoming more aware of the feelings of others. This can lead to increased cooperation and, yes, even sharing.

3. They play pretend. Pretend play is important for child development, especially in growing social skills. During pretend play, they have to consider the ideas of their playmates, express and listen to others, and assign roles — all important aspects of being a friend. Plus, pretend play provides the opportunity for children to role play and experiment with different behaviors.

4. They may have a “best” friend. It’s typical for preschoolers to drift towards one or two peers that they deem “best friends.” Don’t fret if this changes daily because they are far from navigating the concept of a lifetime friendship.

5. They may prefer a friend over mom or dad. As they grow more confident in their social skills, preschoolers may push boundaries with their parents as they challenge the limits of their independence. It’s normal.

6. They can be loving and hurtful. As preschoolers become more aware of others’ feelings, they often show empathy especially when a child is upset or sad. But they are also very egocentric and often say things that inadvertently hurts a friend’s feelings.

Most importantly, I learned that the preschool years are a time of rapid growth and development in a variety of areas. And there will be times when “being a good friend” is the skill he’s working on while other times it’s learning how to write or (please work on this one next)…use the potty.



  1. Betsy October 30, 2015 at 11:59 am

    I have a now 5 year old son who is in Pre-K with his ‘best-friend’. The two of them met at their Bright Horizons Learning Center when they were about 10 months old and have been together for the last 4+ years. As our families live on opposite sides of town, are there recommendations for keeping that friendship alive when they go to Kindergarten – as they will more than likely go to different schools? Their friendship is amazing, from the hugs they give to standing up for one another to secrets they share to sleepovers they have.

    And, are there recommendations for making that transition to a new school easier without your friend who has always been there.

    They have a very special friendship, unique I think at this age.

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