For a young child, making friends with children her age is probably the most important step in developing relationships outside the family that your little one can do. Psychologists tell us that about the time most children begin to go to kindergarten is also the time when they first begin to understand the separation of the world from family and that relationships outside the family are desirable.
When a child is in infancy, the entire world revolves around mom and dad and her siblings. They want for little else and the love and approval of parents, brothers and sisters is all that baby lives for. But it is about the age she is ready to go to school that the interest in friends separate from family begins to surface in most children. This is helpful because the development of friendships at school will also be the one thing that will most ease the difficulty from the life of living at home and going off to school each day.
You as parents can encourage your child in bonding with youngsters his or her age long before you send that child off to kindergarten. Sometimes we as parents can be a bit protective and see the home as a sanctuary where we want to shelter our children for as long as possible. But while that is a natural emotional reaction to parenting, particularly with your first child, you know intellectually that it is healthy for your youngster to develop friendships outside the home and learn to socialize as soon as she feels ready to do so.
The first week that a child goes to kindergarten is a big step for a child. Anything you can do to get her ready for the change in schedule, in food, in what she will do all day and who she will be around will help your little one adapt and succeed in school from the first day going forward. And for a very young child to whom the security of knowing everyone and everything in the home has been central to her sense of well being, any familiarity that can be introduced to the classroom when you take her off to kindergarten will help establish that classroom as a place of safety as well.
In a way, while you may not have thought much about it, if you have had your child in play groups as an infant, that was a very good start. The more your little one has learned to adapt to new people, to get to know someone different from her and different from mom and dad and her siblings, the less that first step into the world of education will be for her. One thing a child will learn at playgroup is how to be outgoing. This is not a natural instinct in a lot of children. While we are used to youngsters being “shy”, many times that shyness is just insecurity at not knowing how to go up to another child and make friends.
By including as many new people in the playgroup experience and also encouraging your child to interact with others within the family, at church and at the park, that feeling of security that making friends is a fun and rewarding experience will be engrained in a child from their earliest experiences with the world. And it will be a skill that will stay with them for life.
In addition, if you can do a bit of research to find out if a few of your child’s friends from playgroup are going to be in the same class at kindergarten, you might even meet with the other moms before school and go over together. When that small band of friends enters that new world holding hands, they will feel secure in each other and that bond will enable them to open to new people and new experiences. And when your little one is open to learning, their experience in kindergarten will be fun and fulfilling for her and for you because you enabled your child to go to school and make friends every day.