Preschooler Social Development
Preschoolers and Peer Relationships
By age 5, many children are beginning to prefer the company of other children over the company of adults. They may also show a preference for certain children over others. Your child may have someone he calls his "best friend" now. It's important for parents to nurture these friendships. Encourage your child to have his best friend over for a playdate, because being allowed to "show off" his home and possessions will help build his self-esteem and confidence.
Older preschoolers are beginning to understand and internalize social norms. Your 5-year-old probably realizes that if he doesn't let his friends have a turn, they won't want to play with him anymore. This helps to guide his behavior and choices.
While 5-year-olds can be wonderfully loving friends, they can also be hurtful. At this age, children are beginning to understand the power of social rejection. Don't be surprised to hear an argument between two 5-year-olds culminating with the declaration, "If you don't let me have the ball, I'm not going to be your friend anymore!"
Most of the time, this is just normal 5-year-old interaction. But it's important to keep an eye on mean behavior and make sure your child isn't ganging up or picking on others excessively. Bullying can happen even at this young age.
Your Challenging Preschooler
Your 5-year-old's friends are more than just her playmates. They are a major influence on her. To that end, you may find her trying on behaviors that are new (and unwelcome) to you. For example, If your child's best friend talks about a particular TV show, your child may suddenly demand to watch it even if TV is forbidden in your home. She may insist on a sugary cereal that's never been allowed before simply because it is her friend's favorite.
Your child may also start to "talk back" more around this time, defying you or even calling you names. Though infuriating, this behavior is actually a good sign that your child is learning to test authority and be more independent. Try to react calmly, because a big emotional reaction is often what your child is seeking in these situations.
Your preschooler may start bickering more with older siblings around this time, too. He thinks he ought to be able to do everything his big brother can do and gets frustrated when he can't. You may find yourself caught in the middle of sibling squabbles on a daily basis.
Preschooler Social Development: Why It Matters
A growing body of evidence points to the importance of social development in young children. Research suggests that if a child hasn't developed a basic set of social skills by age 6, he is at risk for social problems into adulthood. In fact, how well your child gets along with other children is a better indicator of how well he'll function as an adult than behavior, grades, or IQ.
Of course, healthy social development doesn't mean your child has to be a "social butterfly." Each child has her own personality and temperament, and what's important is the quality of her social interactions, not the quantity.