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Feature Article


Helping children get along with friends

Four kids hugging and smilingRobert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D., former Professor, Department of Human Development & Family Science, University of Missouri


Friends are important to children. They make life more interesting and fun. They are playmates, and they help children feel that they belong. Children who have friends are less lonely and depressed. They are also more likely to feel confident and good about themselves. In long-range terms, we know that when kids have good friendships, they will probably do well in school and grow up to be well-adjusted adults. For these reasons, it is important for adults to help children learn to be good friends and to have good friends.


Children’s ideas about friends


As children grow up, their ideas about friends change. As preschoolers, friends are there to play with. While these friendships may not seem very important, they really give children much happiness.


In the school-age years, children start to build some clear ideas about friendship. In general, friends are those with whom they play, talk and share. They also have some ideas about how to treat friends. Friends are nice to each other, they are helpful and they protect each other.


In the early teen years, these ideas about friendship change further. During this time, young teenagers begin to understand the importance of sharing personal information with friends. They realize that friends are the ones you can share your private feelings and thoughts with, not just those you enjoy being around.




One of the important skills in making and being good friends is cooperation. It is important for children to learn to get along with others, especially in the school-age years when children spend lots of time playing together.


  • Sharing. Children need to learn how to take turns and share. Children are more likely to get along with each other when they can be fair. This means learning to wait while others get to do something fun. It can also mean learning to give up a fun activity or a toy so that another child can get a turn.
  • Asking permission. Children also need to learn how to ask permission to join an activity or to play with something. Sometimes children just try to take over a situation rather than ask if they can play. Children need to understand that when they try to push their way into a game, it is more than likely going to end in an argument.
  • Suggestions. Another common problem among children is that one child will try to boss other children around. Bossy children are not liked by other kids. Encourage children to express their ideas, but show them how to offer suggestions rather than give orders. If a child wants everybody to play a game a certain way, he or she might say, “Why don’t we do it this way?” rather than saying, “Play the game my way.”
  • Alternatives. Like adults, children have disagreements. In playing with each other, they must find ways to solve those disagreements. If a child doesn’t like the way a game is being played or doesn’t think it is fair, he or she can suggest another way. This works better than being bossy or just not playing at all. It is important to help children understand that finding other ways to do something will help change the situation.
  • Winning. Children sometimes get too competitive. They will turn games into contests and always try to come out first. Children need to be encouraged to have fun in their games and play with other children. But don’t ask them who is winning or who came in first; ask questions about how much fun it was to play or how well children worked together as a team. When a child is too competitive, other children won’t want to play with him or her.


Teaching cooperation


Children have to learn how to cooperate, it doesn’t just happen naturally. Adults can be an important source of help in teaching children how to cooperate.


A first step in helping children learn to cooperate is to pick out situations where the child has difficulty. Does he or she have trouble waiting his or her turn? Does he jump into games without asking? Is she bossy with other children? Does he end up in lots of disagreements over rules? Is she always trying to be the winner?


The second step could be to talk about the child’s behavior in the situation. What does he or she see happening? If you can notice problems such as bossing others around or always trying to win, discuss this with the child. Try to get the children to imagine how they would feel if others were bossy or always trying to win. You could point out that other children will enjoy playing with them more if they are less bossy or competitive.


Another idea is to give them some make-believe situations and ask them what else they could do besides being bossy or competitive. Often bossy children have to learn how to make suggestions rather than give orders. You could ask the children to pretend and practice making some suggestions.


The next step is actually trying to practice these new social skills. The next time the children are playing, encourage them to try suggestions rather than give orders. If you have a chance to watch the child playing, this would be ideal — then you could see if they try out the new ideas. Obviously, change will not come about immediately. You will need to talk several times about successes and failures as they try out new ways to get along. Keep looking at the situation, have the children pretend what to do and encourage them to try things out in their play.




Parents and other adults can be important teachers as children learn how to get along with their friends. They need your help in understanding what works and what doesn’t work. And most importantly, they need your encouragement as they build strong friendships.


Discussion Questions


The following questions could be used to talk with children.


  1. Can you think of times when you play with other children? What can kids do to get along better?
  2. Sometimes kids get into fights about who is first or who gets a toy or game. What can kids do to solve this problem?
  3. Sometimes we want other people to do things so we boss them around. What else could you do besides being bossy?




Talk with your child about the following situations and ask what a child could do in each situation:


  • Several children are playing a game; you ask to play and they say “no.”
  • A new kid comes to school and is standing to the side while the other children play.
  • Another kid is being bossy and telling everybody what to do.
  • Five kids want to play a board game, but the rules only allow four to play at a time.


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Last Updated 07/31/2017