My toddler has no friends! What should I do?
Welcome back to Best Case Parenting. I am sure many parents have had this situation at home.
They ask their young child who their friends are and they don’t get a reply! Maybe they see their child at nursery, and get worried when they don’t see them playing with others.
Should parents be worried by this? I aim to tackle this issue in the following article.
If you want the short answer, then you shouldn’t worry about this. Toddlers or even preschool age children are still forming their idea of friendship. Give your child as many opportunities to socialise with their peers as possible (usually in the form of play dates). You should see improvement as they get older and move through preschool.
Why does my child have no friends?
I can understand why many parents get worried in these situations. A lot seem to expect their children to have a “best buddy” right from the off.
What are the reasons some toddlers don’t appear to have friends?
They are simply too young!
Please remember that, as adults, we have a much more developed view of what friendship is. We have gained many years experience in the art of friendship. Your toddler is at the very start of this journey. Is it easy for most adults to make friends? Probably not! So, why do we often expect this of our children?
Your child won’t have a clear concept of what a “best friend” is yet.
This is why toddlers find it very hard to share at first, they couldn’t imagine that anyone else should be entitled to that toy they are holding!!
After they become aware of all these other children around them, they then need to take the time to learn how to deal with them! Believe me, it is not easy for a small child!
As we say many times on this website, children are all unique and different. Some children have naturally withdrawn or shy personalities. Some children are more than happy to spend extended periods of time playing on their own, and there is nothing wrong with this.
Even as adults, we can see there are different people that enjoy different ways of life. Some want to be the life and soul of the party, always out and about socialising in whatever way they can. Whereas some adults would much rather spend a quiet night home alone.
Children are no different, they come in all shapes and forms. If a child is naturally shy, we can’t force them to engage them with others. We can encourage them, but not force!
Maybe they were brought up surrounded by adults!
I have seen this situation multiple times over the years. A parent will ask me why their child is not interacting well with other children of similar age? I ask them if their child has any other children to interact with at home and the answer is often “no”.
If a child has been brought up around mostly adults, and this is who they spend most of their time with, you will often find that when they arrive at school for the first time they are somewhat perplexed!
They are used to adults politely asking them things and having delightful conversations, and then reality sets in on the first day of school as a child rips a toy out of their hand and screams “mmmiiiiinnnneeeee!”
You can’t expect a child to be good with other children if they have little of no experience with this.
How can I help them get friends?
Give them time!
Toddlers and young children have often not even formed a solid idea as to what friendship is. Friendship is surprisingly complex and takes time to understand.
They might still be wondering about things such as….
- If a child plays with me, does this make them my friend?
- Can my friend only play with me?
- What do I do if someone tries to play with me when I don’t want to?
Don’t expect your child to quickly come home and real off a list of their friends, or tell you their best friend! It takes time!
When I was a child, there was little need to play dates. I can still vividly remember coming home from school, dumping my school bag and almost immediately going outside to play with my friends. There was a dirt road at the back of all the houses in our road, and all the children would gather here to ride bikes, make dens and generally have lots of fun!
Unfortunately, this type of child socialising is not happening as much in the modern world any more. These days people see all the horror stories on the news and worry that something could happen to their child if they were allowed to play with others in such a free way.
The internet has made this paranoia worse, as you don’t only have the official news channels available to you. Online, parents can find out all about this on unofficial or smaller news outlets or blogs. Often, this content is less filtered.
As a result, many parents are convinced their child will get abducted the minute they let them out of the house! OK, maybe an exaggeration, but you get the idea!
Now that this avenue of friendship building is closed off to a lot of children (or at very least greatly reduced), you need to replace it with play dates.
You can get to know the other parents in your local area or those you meet at your child’s nursery or school. Ask them if they would like to arrange a play date.
Do the same, if you notice your child repeatedly mentioning a particular child’s name from school.
As well as play dates, you can also find other events which will involve your child interacting with other children.
It could be a mom group (something I have an article on HERE) or parenting get together. Community centers often have play events for children too. Soft play areas are also great opportunities for your child to interact with others.
Search around your local area, see what you can find.
These are the ways your child can get more experience and practise interacting and dealing with other children. Like anything in life, the more they practise the better they will get!
Model how to be a good friend!
If you read this website often, you will probably get sick of me saying this! But, it is totally true in many parenting situations!
You are your child’s ultimate role model. They will look up to you and often copy what they see you do.
Show your child, through your actions, how to interact with and treat others appropriately.
This could include asking other children if they want to play, what to do when a child does something you don’t like and sharing. It is also fun to role play these situations with soft toys!
Harness the power of books
Books are a great way to raise and discuss friendship issues with your children. When you use books, it often feels more fun for your child and not like their parents are lecturing them again!
These books will allow your child to almost relive a friendship situation they may have experienced, and give them ideas how to better deal with it the next time it happens.
Luckily, there are many excellent books out there for all ages that give great messages about friendship.
Personally, I really like the Elephant and Piggie series of books by Mo Willems. There are some great books in the series about friendship, all delivered in a humorous way that a wide variety of age groups will enjoy.
Click the image below to check out a collection of his books on Amazon.
Ask your child’s teacher
If you are still worried about your child’s social skills and ability to make friends, you can raise the point with your child’s teacher.
If you think about it, a teacher sees a wide variety of children every school year. They are well placed to let you know if your child is doing well socially or not.
Maybe you are worried after making a few short observations of your child when you drop them off or pick them up. However, your teacher sees them for many hours every day and can give you a better insight into the bigger picture.
You will probably find out that everything is fine and you have nothing to worry about!
You’ve got a friend in me!
I hope you enjoyed reading our article on friendship for toddlers and young children.
Our aim is to put your mind at ease, because for a majority of situations you have nothing to worry about. Sure, you can still support them with some of the suggestions given here. But, for most of you, this won’t be the “end of the world” scenario you were expecting!
If you have your own experience or tips in the area of friendship for children, we would love to hear all about it in the comments section below.
You might want to check out another one of our articles about boosting your child’s social skills!