Fostering friendships in the Early Years

Children linking arms together to show friendship

In the Early Years, we play a key role in helping children to build relationships by helping children to foster friendships in the Early Years. Next week marks “Anti- Bullying Week 2023”, an initiative from the Anti- Bullying Alliance, to help stamp out bullying in our schools. It’s a great time to not only ensure that children are aware of bullying and how to deal with it, but also to explore relationships with others, particularly linked to friendship and making friends.

Friendships play a vital role in the development of children in their early years. They provide support, empathy, and encouragement during difficult times, while also teaching important social skills such as playing together and sharing feelings. As educators and caregivers, it is crucial to create an environment that encourages friendships in Early Years settings.

With that in mind, here’s 5 ways you can encourage friendships and help children to build relationships in the early years.

Encourage Play and Interaction with Peers

One of the best ways to promote friendships in Early Years settings is by providing ample opportunities for children to play with other children. Free play, where there are no rules or goals, allows children to learn from each other and develop essential social skills. When children are struggling to form relationships with others, it can be helpful to direct them towards children who have shared interests and to facilitate a conversation between them. Group activities can also be beneficial as they teach cooperation and teamwork. Engaging in games and activities can create a fun and interactive environment for children to bond and develop friendships that are scaffolded by adults.

Create a supportive environment

To encourage friendships in Early Years, it is crucial to provide a safe and supportive space where children can freely express their feelings. By acknowledging and validating children’s emotions, we can create a nurturing environment that promotes healthy friendships. It is also important that children have the opportunities to explore, play freely and collaborate with their peers. When children feel relaxed and safe they are more likely to feel able to develop healthy relationships with others around them.

Lead Conversations about Friendship

Adults can play a vital role in fostering friendships by leading conversations about friendship with children. Asking open-ended questions like what makes someone a good friend, who their best friends are, or how they make new friends can encourage children to think and talk more about the value of friendship. Facilitating conversations where children recognise and accept the emotions of their peers can be another helpful tool in supporting children to develop positive relationships e.g. “Emma is not feeling happy today. She is not smiling and says she does not want to play in the sand.”

Model positive relationships

An young, black woman, supports three children to foster friendships

In addition to peer interactions, it is equally important to encourage interactions between adults and children (and adult to adult interactions) which model and reinforce the skills needed to develop and maintain friendships. This is particularly beneficial for shy children who may find it challenging to initiate friendships with their peers. Interacting with adults not only helps them develop social skills but also exposes them to new experiences and perspectives. By observing how adults make friends and interact with others, children can learn valuable lessons on friendship and social interaction.

Promote Small Group Activities

Four children work together in an EYFS setting

Informal activities that allow EYFS children to work together in small groups can be an effective way to foster friendships. Engaging in games, and other interactive activities on a personal level enables children to develop deeper relationships that can last for years. Games like tag or hide-and-seek encourage children to interact, learn how to cooperate, and take risks without the fear of failure. Such activities provide an opportunity for children to explore new experiences while building friendships and allow for adults to scaffold and guide children in developing positive relationships.

Friendship is a fundamental aspect of a child’s life, and fostering friendships in the early years foundation stage can be both challenging and rewarding. By providing opportunities for play, encouraging interactions, promoting small group activities, creating a safe space for emotional expression, and leading conversations about friendship, we can lay the foundation for lifelong friendships.

Key takeaways:

  • It is crucial to model positive friendships and social interactions for children.
  • Encourage children to respect and value each other’s differences and individuality.
  • Incorporate social-emotional learning activities into the curriculum to support friendship development.

Want some inspiration for fostering friendships in the early years? Why not check out the Friendship Planning Bank here.