The Superficial Friendships of Preschoolers

The Superficial Friendships of Preschoolers

You love, cherish, and value your friends.  Consequently, it is important to you that your child have good friends and that she be a good friend.  Unfortunately, you may be dismayed to find your little one occasionally behaving toward her friends in a fashion that you find inappropriate and unsettling.

My advice?  Relax and be patient.  Keep in mind that friendship is a rather complex concept and it takes children many years to fully appreciate it.  If you think about your fondest friendships in life, you may have known the person since you were preschoolers, but it really wasn’t until adolescence that the friendship became the deep and meaningful thing of which you are so fond.

While preschoolers do understand the concept of friendship and do treat their friends differently from other children, the fact is that friendships are very superficial at this point.  First of all, the friendships of preschoolers tend to be temporary and materialistic in nature.  For instance, ask a four-year-old, “Who is your best friend?”  She replies, “Sally.”  Ask, “Why is Sally your best friend?”  She replies, “Sally has really good toys.”  A couple of days later ask, “Who is your best friend?”  She replies, “Nancy.”  You say, “I thought Sally was your best friend.”  She replies, “No, Nancy has better toys than Sally.”

The friendships also tend to be seen as strictly equitable in nature.  You will often hear a preschooler saying something like, “If you let me play with your toys I’ll let you play with mine,” or “If you invite me to your party I’ll invite you to mine.”  And if there is the slightest violation of that tit-for-tat arrangement, the friendship is over.

As difficult as it may be to observe your little one behaving in this manner, there is no need to fret.  While it is fine to talk about friendship with your child and it certainly is a wonderful idea to model proper relationships for her, you really can’t “teach” the complexities of true friendship to a mind that is still a long way from full maturity.  But don’t be angry or alarmed.  As long as she has plenty of opportunities to interact with other children at Romp n’ Roll and elsewhere, as the years go by you will see her friendships become more meaningful and see your worries subside.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project.  He may be contacted via e-mail at