I am absolutely blessed with twins. From the second we saw them bobbing about at our scan, it was lovely to think the would be on this journey together and ultimately have a friend for life.
It’s easy to presume that twins will automatically be best friends, but in the past two and a half years my girls have grown into great friends. They have some spectacular fallouts but love being together.
Babies are born to socialise. From the moment of birth they prefer human faces rather than drawings of faces and they turn towards their mother’s voice, suggesting that they are innately wired to be with other people. As children become toddlers they use this innate sociability to make connections with others. Learning how to make friends is one of life’s most important skills, and it is one that develops very early on.We can help our children make steps towards making friendships.
Firstly, we have to understand that pre-school children don’t think the same as older children do. Their brains are still developing and they see things very differently to us. For example, pre-school children will find it very hard to take on another person’s perspective. This is called ‘egocentrism’ and it means that it can be hard for little children to understand why other children don’t want to play a game their way or play with a certain toy right now. Because of this, pre-school children often spend a lot of time playing on their own or engaged in ‘parallel play’ which is playing alongside, but not with, their friend). Don’t worry – this does not mean that your child is unsociable or has difficulties with socialising. Charlie used to do this for most of his nursery sessions; he would stand by others but was totally immersed in his own little game; as he’s gotten older he is much better and rarely plays on his own. It’s good to know that when they are playing alone, they can still learn about socialising. For example, play sets such as the VTech Toot-Toot friends that we reviewed allow children to learn about social skills such as turn taking and communicating. They are just being small children who can only take short bursts of playing together before needing some time alone.
Children are born with different temperaments. My girls may be genetically identical but they are completely opposite when it comes to how they deal with certain situations. Often, these temperaments are reflections of their parents. So, for example a confident, chatty mum is more likely to have a confident, chatty child. When this is the case, it is relatively straightforward for a mum to support their child in making friends, because they do it in a similar way. It can be less straightforward however when a confident, chatty mum has a quiet, shy child. It is harder for the mum to know how to guide their child, as the strategies they use will not be the same as the ones their child will benefit from. It is particularly important in this case to for mums to accept their child for who they are (even if they do feel quite frustrated by their child’s shyness) and to get support and advice from the other parent, other family members and friends. Charlie is very much like me in that he is shy to start with but once out his shell is very chatty.
If your child is quiet and observant, you will need to take time in how you introduce them into new social settings. They will probably want to sit on your knee and hold on to you for the first few times in a new environment. Stay positive and encourage them to join in. If they don’t want to join in, chat to them about what the other children are doing so that your child remains interested. As your child “warms up” they will be happier to move away from you and play with other children, and once they have built up some friendships in that setting, they will feel far more comfortable. Regular and predictable play sessions are important. Quiet children are often attracted to more confident louder children, as they can be taken charge of, and these children find it easier to join a game in a passive role initially. Confident children who are natural leaders can play with other confident leaders, but expect quite a few power struggles during these games, as both children try to take the dominant position. P2 is definitely the more confident as a whole but at home P1 is definitely vying for the dominant position (she has a weight advantage when it gets physical too!)
The majority of learning at this age occurs through watching and imitation. So, it is very important that you model positive friendships to your child from the very start. If you are someone who finds it hard to make friends, it can be difficult to build up a strong network of mum friends around you. Charlie started nursery when he was 3 at the school he was to attend and it was a small nursery group so I was able to make a few friends who I am now very close with. It was a smaller more intimate environment so we were able to build it up there.
Children who grow up seeing their parents have positive friendships that – even if they are going through a rough patch – involve time together, having fun and caring are more likely to build up those positive friendships themselves.
When it comes to arranging time for your child to spend with their friends, remember to keep it short. Small children get tired very quickly, and it is much nicer to end a playdate on a high than wait until all the children have melted into sobbing heaps making it rather stressful!
Finally, don’t expect the path towards friendship to run smoothly. Charlie has lots of groups of friends so tends to drift but there are a lot of mistakes to be made, and these are necessary for children to grow into adults who know what to do and what not to do when it comes to making friends. Even very good pre-school friends will frequently squabble and fight. Your refereeing will help your child to learn the essential skills of turn taking and negotiating – and I am definitely feeling like a bonafide referee after raising twins!
Angharad Rudkin has teamed up with VTech to support the launch of its new fun and interactive range, Toot-Toot Friends. Dr Rudkin is a clinical psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and has worked with children, adolescents and families for over 15 years. VTech® is a world leader in age-appropriate and developmental stage-based electronic learning products for children. As a pioneer in the learning toy category, VTech develops high-quality, innovative educational products that enrich children’s development and make learning fun.
For more information please visit www.vtech.co.uk
This is a collaborative post