While infants and toddlers play alongside their peers, preschoolers begin playing with peers. This is a valuable season of learning and practicing social skills and the give-and-take of relationships. Your child will benefit from feedback received from peers as well as instruction and feedback you provide as he charters the unfamiliar waters of friendships.

You play an important role in preparing your child to connect with others. Here are some ways you can help.

  • In order to begin assisting your child in building friendships, give him ample opportunities to interact with peers while you are present. Your role, or the role of a willing adult (grandparent, babysitter, or preschool teacher), will be providing your child information about the social climate, the activities in which other children are participating, and the social skills you witness. For example, you may mention that three children are giggling while blowing bubbles at the picnic table to your right-hand side; the children are looking at one another and smiling. Now, he will know what to expect when entering the social setting.
  • You can help your child progress to recognizing what he hears, smells, and touches in an unfamiliar environment. He can analyze the information and estimate how many children are in the room, listen to the topics of conversation, and infer the activities. If he isn’t sure or wishes to verify, teach him to ask, “Hi, what are you playing with?” Encourage him to decide which group to interact with, according to his interests in activities and conversation topics.
  • Be a detective and determine what is popular to do and watch in your child’s peer group. Give him opportunities to become familiar with the shows and activities. He will have material in which to talk about with potential friends.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions to the group of children in an effort to find out more about their ages and interests, ultimately, to build connections. Let him know that friendships generally form when similarities between individuals are recognized. You can say something like, “Johnny, you hear the two boys zooming their play cars on the track? You can ask them how old they are. They look about five like you. Ask them if they play cars at home. You like to play cars at home. Finding something you can talk about that you both like is great! This is one way we make friends.”
  • Remind your child to take turns in activities and conversations. Practice through role-playing.
  • Consider allowing your child to invite friends to your home. Your child will be learning and practicing social skills in a familiar environment. This will allow him time and space to focus on friendships instead of worrying about the safety or orientation of a new environment.
  • In private, let your child know if he has any controllable behaviors or mannerisms that are distracting, such as eye pressing, rocking, excessive jumping, or not looking at a person who is speaking. Suggest what he can do to replace the behaviors.
  • Reflect with your child on what was enjoyable about spending time with friends and what he did well. Spend a short amount of time on what he can improve—focusing on putting himself in the mindset of the friend. For example, “I noticed you did not want to share gum from the packet you were holding. If your friend was chewing gum and you asked for a piece, what would you want him to say? What would you think if he wouldn’t share? Next time consider his feelings by sharing or deciding not bring gum or a toy you do not want to share.”

Developing your child’s ability to connect with others will help prepare him for success in workplace, familial and romantic relationships as well as friendships throughout his life.

For more information on the topic of encouraging blind preschoolers to build friendships, read “Promoting Friendship Among Preschoolers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.”