Though babies and tots might enjoy spending time with pals, children don’t develop true friendships – relationships based on mutual appreciation, trust and give-and-take – until around age 4 or 5. For some children, these early friendships develop naturally through day care, play group and community interactions. Other kids may be hesitant or even frightened around children they don’t know.
Above all, parents should avoid labels such as “shy” that can stick around for a lifetime. Instead of labeling withdrawn behavior, parents can help a child come out of his or her shell by arranging play dates with one child at a time. When social situations cause stress, parents can help by redirecting the child’s attention to an absorbing toy or game, pointing out a familiar face in the crowd and validating the child’s feelings by saying something like, “I understand that new places can be overwhelming.”
Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer and mom of two.