Forming Friendships - Grow healthy. Grow happy.

two kid brothers drawing together at home. Happy siblings spending time together and playing.

Forming Friendships

By Grow Healthy. Grow Happy. The Whole Baby Guide

Friendship is a mutual relationship in which two people agree that they have an affinity for each other. Early childhood friendships are the stepping-stones to a healthy, socially competent life. To make friends, your child must integrate his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a way that enables him to get along with others. Friendship also requires the ability to balance intimacy and autonomy. These social skills are not present at birth. Rather, he acquires them through experiences and through his first relationships with parents and other family members.

Below are the general steps of friendship development, along with the ages at which you can expect your child to take those steps. Remember that every child is different, and yours will gain social skills and make friends at his own pace.

The ability to make and to keep at least one close friend is essential to your child’s well-being. As his coach, you can help your child develop social skills and form friendships:

  • Respond to your baby’s needs so he develops trust.
  • Provide opportunities for him to play with others.
  • Make sure that he is rested, fed, and dry at playtime.
  • Provide a safe and age-appropriate play area.
  • Match social expectations to your child’s developmental stages.
  • Observe and be sensitive to his social interactions.
  • Pay attention to children to make sure that they are getting along, and intervene if necessary.

Milestones in Forming Friendships

 3-6 months

As early as two months old, your baby may become interested in another baby. Even though he primarily sees the world through his own needs, he has a magnetic attraction to other babies, both in real life and in pictures. He may stare at or get excited when he sees another baby, or he may cry when he hears another baby cry—a physiological reflex called distressed compassion, whereby he interprets another baby’s cry as his own distress.

6-12 months

At this age, your baby is more alert and aware, and he may respond socially by smiling, cooing, or laughing at another baby or at himself in the mirror. He may also try to get the attention of another baby. At around nine months, he interacts with other babies or children by imitating and responding to their facial expressions, gestures, or sounds.

12-18 months

As your child gains mobility and language skills, he becomes interested in the world around him, particularly as it relates to him. He enjoys the company of other children and may reach out to interact with another child, although he lacks the skills to engage in true, interactive social play. He may imitate another child and play simple games with him, such as peekaboo.

18-24 months

Your child can interact with other children for a longer period of time and in a more complex way. He experiences reciprocity as he takes turns in handing over a toy and then taking it back. Even though he may be cooperative at times, he is primarily focused on getting his own needs met and may be impulsive and impatient in the face of conflict.

24-36 months

By now your child’s language and cognitive skills bring out more complexity in his ability to interact with peers through communication, cooperation, problem solving, and imagination for pretend play. Your child can participate in games and play complementary roles in interactions.


Factors that Influence Friendship Building

Both internal developmental skills and external factors contribute to your child’s social competence and ability to form lasting friendships. Social, cultural, spiritual, economic, and political factors are part of the landscape as your child learns about people and how to relate to them. Some of these factors are not within your control, while others are. It is worth being aware of all of them, however, and shaping them to your child’s advantage when possible.

Internal Factors

Attachment style—If your child has a secure attachment and feels connected to a parent or caregiver, then he is more likely to engage with other children and to develop social skills.

Self-regulation—Your child’s ability to control and manage his emotions contributes to his relationships with peers.

Temperament—Your child’s temperament influences his patterns in developing relationships. For instance, if he is shy and inhibited, he may need more space and time to relate to another child. If he is aggressive, he may need to develop empathy for others.

Cognitive and language abilities—Your child’s abilities to imagine how others think and feel, to understand what others say, and to communicate his own thoughts influence his social competence.

Learning style—Your child perceives, acts on, and processes social information in his own way, in his own learning mode.

External Factors

Setting—In what settings does your child spend time and form ideas and behaviors—at home, at his grandparents’ house, at his play group or child care center, or in the homes of friends and family members? Are these settings conducive to forming friendships? If making friends is a challenge for your child, you can invite playmates to your house, where he is in familiar, safe surroundings. An outdoor setting in a natural environment can also be conducive to relationship building.

Parenting style—Friendship does not always happen on its own. You can support your child in making friends by providing social opportunities for him. You can also observe his social development and coach him if needed. Try modeling social skills and showing him that you can feel comfortable in social situations. He will pick up on your cues and react accordingly. Are you giving him social support in a warm, responsive, and nourishing way or a controlling, demanding, and punishing way?

Peers—Close proximity of children of similar age and interests provides opportunity for friendship. When children play together frequently, they gain a sense of familiarity and close relationships develop naturally.

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33 Responses to Forming Friendships

  1. So true! Friendships formed early really help children be social and grow.

  2. Friendship skills build as a child ages. From having 5 kids, it starts with imitating those closest to them, builds to parallel play and eventually the concept of sharing occurs over time.

  3. I love how you talk about the individual needs of a baby. My kids are so different and they make friends differently too. Our library has a great play area and we really take advantage of just letting them do their own thing in a contained area 🙂

  4. My daughter (who just turned 3 months old) is VERY interested in watching our 2-and-a-half-year-old son run around and be wild. She just sits and smiles at him!

  5. Great article! I knew what distressed compassion in young babies looked like but I never knew the name for it. As a new mom and I can see myself referring to the milestone list again in the future. You learn something new every day!

  6. Anything for the kids

  7. This informative article is great for families who want to help their child have friends and be a friend, too.

  8. Wonderful information, guidance and ideas to help my children develop friendships and work on their socialization skills from a young age. The very things I like to work on with them before they start pre-k.

  9. Thanks for the advice on how to help my child form friendships! So important as he grows up!

  10. This comes handy because my son is really shy. And I think he ha just one friend, his cousin.

  11. Some of our cloests friends had a baby six weeks after us and we desperately hoped our children would be friends. There were some rough patches in the early years but much to our delight they are wonderful friends and love each other dearly. It’s such a gift!

  12. Love all the ideas, as a first time mom there are alot of these I didn’t think about.

  13. Love this

  14. Very good, children that are raised without interacting with others do not want to share, in my experience.

  15. I love this article & I truly believe trust starts when they are infants and we as mommies respond to their needs 🙂 <3

  16. my grandson is so timid. such a sweet boy. he may need more space and time to relate to another child when he starts going to Kindergarten this fall.

  17. This is an interesting article for a Grandma to read. Love learning about how to improve friendships for the children.

  18. I love all these tips and check list for my baby. Thank you for sharing this!

  19. As a pediatric psychologist myself, this sounds as if it was written by a pediatric psychologist! Wonderful article. Friendships are so important for children of all ages and your developmental milestones are accurate. Thanks for blogging about this!

  20. Thanks for the article. With social media today friendships it seems is a lost art form!

  21. My baby isn’t here yet but I absolutely cannot wait

  22. Such great information. Friendships are so important!

  23. I can’t wait for the big day! Thanks for the read, I loved your article!

  24. This article is super helpful! My daughter is 3 months old & she’s starting to become more interested in people. Sometimes we need an article like this, to use as a guide to not only help ourselves as a parent but, our children too. Making sure your children build a friendship with others, is the key to life!

  25. I worry about my son’s empathy and self regulations skills when he encounters other children. He’s an only child and is used to having things to himself.

  26. Very great article! Thank you!

  27. Really glad to be able to read and learn this list as a new mom it’s really good information for me to have thanks so much! I had no idea!

  28. Those friends you have early on in life most likely won’t stay with you though due in part to friends moving away & losing touch with one another…. helpful information though … #BeBlessed

  29. My son was not very sociable before I sent him to pre-k. he’s always at home with me and I was the only person he talks to most of the time. He was very shy and would hide when people talked to him. He changed a lot since I put him in pre-k. I am happy to say that he’s reached a new milestone which is making new friends and forming a good friendship with some kids there. He shows care,empathy and teamwork when he’s with his friends. so proud of my little man.

  30. Great and informative article!

  31. I love this article! The ability to make good friends and apply it positively is important from a young age!

  32. This is a great article! As a stay at home mom, I work hard to make sure my children have the opportunities to make friends.

  33. It’s so necessary for children to have contact with other children to develop trust.

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