Welcome back to the Challenging Behaviors in Preschool series. My previous post focused on how to handle tattling in the classroom. Today, I’d like to discuss how to encourage preschool children to make new friends.
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The book I’ll be referencing this go-around is Challenging Behavior in Young Children: Understanding, Preventing, and Responding Effectively by Barbara Kaiser and Judy Sklar Rasminsky. This book defines challenging behavior and delves into the risk factors involved with such behavior. There’s discussion of how children’s brains work, relationships with adults and peers, and how to prevent challenging behavior. Many real-life examples, as well as educational studies, are shared as the authors help guide teachers (and parents). The authors also have appropriate strategies for helping kids make new friends and preventing exclusion in the classroom.
How is this a challenging behavior?
At first, teaching kiddos to make new friends might not seem like a topic related to challenging behaviors. However, a lack of understanding in this area could lead to some of the following situations:
- One or two children being left out of small group play on a consistent basis.
- Children saying, “I don’t like you! You’re not my friend!”
- Pairs of students who will only play with each other, never branching out to work with other kids in the classroom.
- Students who refuse to try new activities unless their best bud also plays there.
- One child making all of the decisions for other kiddos.
This list is, by no means, exhaustive. When children aren’t sure how to interact with others many problems can arise. These problems can lead to tears, anger, resentment, isolation, and physical confrontations. All of these results lead to an imbalance in the classroom and take away from the positive learning environment.
Why do children act this way?
Just like older children and adults, young children have certain people they respond better to. They prefer playing with certain children, and they don’t care for others. This is a perfectly natural human response. In addition to that, other reasons kids might be “clique-ish” are as follows:
- They just don’t know how to interact with others. Some don’t know how to invite new friends into a group, while others are unsure of speaking up and approaching other children.
- If they’ve been with the same friends for a few years, they may not want to stray outside their comfort zones.
- Sometimes it’s about control. A child might like knowing she can make decisions for her friends or control who her friends talk to.
- Kids have different personalities, just like adults. Some are more outgoing, while others are more introverted.
- Kaiser and Rasminsky point out that a lack of empathy may also be part of the problem. Not all children can look at a situation from another’s perspective. They’re focused on what they want and don’t realize they’re hurting another child.
How to encourage kids to make new friends in preschool
I’d like to point out that I don’t expect my students to be friends with every other child in the classroom. That isn’t a realistic expectation to have, in my opinion. However, I do expect friendly and kind behavior. Even if they aren’t all friends, they can treat each other with respect. I also want to gently nudge my students out of their comfort zones – they might make new friends this way! Below are some ideas for doing just that:
- Challenging Behavior makes a point I agree with 100% – creating a classroom community at the beginning of the year is a must! Have adventures together, play games, and learn about each other. This will help reduce clique-ish behavior by showing the kiddos that the class is a special group of people.
- I think modeling is important here too. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to show children how to act in social situations. Using kind words with everyone, making my presence known in small groups and with individual children, and just listening to each child can go a long way.
- Role playing and class meetings can help with friendship concerns, too. Discussing how to approach a group that’s already playing a game can help the students feel empowered to do that later on in the day. Having children role play what to do and say when a friend wants to play gives them a safe place to practice social skills.
- Rasminksy and Kaiser also suggest teacher labeling of emotions. It helps kids understand their emotions, and it gives examples of what other children might be feeling.
- The authors also propose the idea of peer partners, chosen by the teacher. Asking pairs of students to work together (to deliver a note or water plants, for example) gives them the chance to work with new children. It also helps reduce exclusion in other social settings.
- I also think having high expectations for students’ behaviors is important. In the classroom, all of the children have a right to play and learn. The materials belong to me and the school, and every child is allowed to use them throughout the day. I try to have a set number of people at each each, which helps with responses of “you can’t play!’ If I say 3 people can be at the nature center, and only 2 are there, then a third child can come in no question.
Now that I have written so very much on this topic, I’d love to hear from YOU. Have you noticed clique-ish behavior in your classroom before? How have you attempted to correct and prevent this behavior? I love that we, as teachers, can learn from each other – and I’m always up for new ideas.
Summer Blog Book Study
If you’re interested in earning graduate credits for participating in this summers’ book study, please click here for more information. Additionally, here’s a FAQ link if you have any questions about the graduate credits.
PreKinders has all of the summer book studies on one convenient page here. This year’s books are located on that page, along with posts from each previous book study. Pre-K Pages has compiled a FAQ page if you have any more questions about this book study.
The next post will be from Pre-K Pages on Wednesday, July 16th!
Tools for Teacher Organization
A key skill in creating a positive classroom community is keeping organized. Structure and organization helps create space for students to explore friendships in a stress-free environment.
So, I made a list of some really useful tools in staying organized both in the classroom and when it comes to the lesson planning and logistics of running a classroom. Check them out below.
I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
- Stacking file trays
- File folders
- Clip boards
- Sorting trays
- Nuts and bolts storage drawers
- Table Caddies
- Book bins
- Preschool lesson planning book
- Large desk planner
- Pocket charts
- Contact paper
- Classroom name plates
- Label maker
Keep in mind that this list is in no way extensive. Being organized looks different for each person. So, make sure that you have the tools on-hand that help keep you organized. Doing so will certainly reduce your level of stress each day and throughout the school year.
Done-for-You Preschool Resources
Planning meaningful lessons for students week after week, all while balancing other teaching responsibilities and a personal life, can be a daunting task. That’s where Preschool Teacher 101 comes in to save you time!
Preschool Teacher 101 is excited to share with you some amazing lesson plans, activity packs, and much more! We offer a wide variety of themes that are frequently used in preschool classrooms, as well as some less common (but super interesting) themes. Click on the image below to learn more about our lesson plans all about friendship!
Join The Pack from Preschool Teacher 101 today for exclusive access to our amazing products. And we even have three different membership options to suit your needs!
Vanessa @Pre-K Pages says
I have definitely encountered these types of behaviors in the classroom. I really like this book and think the authors offer some excellent advice. Creating a classroom community from day one is vital. Their other suggestions are spot on, modeling also helps a great deal. Most kids have been exposed to other kids before they get to our classrooms, but rarely in such large quantities so it can be difficult for them to understand large group dynamics. Thank you so much for joining us as a host of the Challenging Behaviors book study- as always, you are a hard act to follow 🙂
I loved the point about establishing a community as a starting point. We work hard to ensure that every child feels that they are a valued member of our team. I am also a big believer in setting high standards for behavior. The clique behavior starts so early. I try to steer conversations away from the “BFF” talk, and focus on having fun together. We have both snack and lunch together. We make sure that the table places are continually switched to encourage branching out socially.
I have definately seen this behavior with my preschoolers; especially during large motor time (recess). I have done many of the things that you have suggested. If I saw someone being left out, not joining in or being too much of a leader; I had a group role playing and discussion time about what I saw on the playground. It then seems to be more understandable when it is played out. I also do what I call “partner centers” in which I pair up the preschoolers in groups of two during a set center time. I try to get the quiet ones with the more talkative ones and eventually pair everyone up with all of their classmates at some point to encourage socialization with the ones that don’t normally play together. It seems to help build friendships and also help some to open up. I do also have “free time” in which they pick who and what they want to play with. I also have a set number for each center. Thanks for the article! It helped to encourage me that I am on the right track.
Thanks for the article! I have encountered these situations in the past. I too, pair students up to encourage interactions. I like the community building activities suggested in the article. I plan to be more proactive with community building during my first week of school.
What kind of team building activities have been successful in your experience? I would love some new and fresh ideas!
Sometimes when I’ve seen a child being excluded from something, I’ll simply ask “Where can _____ sit?” Other times we’ve done cooperative art projects where kids take turns creating symmetrical art together.
Last spring, I read an article about using a golden ticket to assign kiddos a new/different place to play in the classroom. The kiddos each had an envelope with their name on it. Inside the envelope was a ticket to a center for them to play at for the first 20 minutes of free choice. The author suggested it as a way to mix up group dynamics and to get children the opportunity to explore other areas of the room that they might not usually visit.
I like the idea of getting a golden ticket to play in centers! I work with three-year olds and I use parts of the LEAP social skills curriculum. I assign buddies every week in pairs so that the children have the opportunity to work and play with one another. I set up buddy play opportunities throughout the day. I model empathy and encourage the children to respond to the feelings of others.
My head teacher and I work very hard at creating a community feeling in our classroom. Thank you for posting these ideas. They will help me this coming year.
Amy Johnson says
I love this post. I call attention to the “you can’t play” by using Vivian Paley’s book You Can’t say You Can’t Play. In this book she has a story that she wrote to tell with the children. I use it a little at a time and we discuss how those words make us feel. Much like she does in the book. A great read!!! We create a class story. I help guide them by setting up the situation and leaving it open to when a child says “you can’t play” and then as a class we work together to create the rest of the story. The only guidelines are that all the characters have to “feel” good at the end of the story. Some times this takes many drafts and lots of discussion but we have a great story at the end.
I have seen some of this and I have also noticed the unkind behavior of saying, I don’t like you you are not my friend. I am always saying we are all friends at school, but i makes sense that it is not realistic to think that way. Right now I am having issues with toys from home, and friends not sharing them. I am not sure how to deal with this. The child I am having issues with will let some friends play with it, and then will take it from them before they are done playing with it. Do I make him share it or do I say, well its his from home so I guess he can have it back? I am thinking it is a control thing for this child, but I am not sure how to address this. Any advice would be great! Thank you in advance!
we have a policy of not bringing toys from home. The toys belong to the school and therefore must be shared with everyone. I tell the child that I would be very sad if we lost the toy. We suggest that the toy stays at home or in the car. The toy can stay in the backpack, but we have had problems with children getting the toy out of it. Hope this helps.
Shelley K. says
Building classroom community has to start from day one and continue throughout the school year. Creating a sense of belonging helps all children, especially those experiencing difficulty in developing social skills. Making this a priority has helped me to reduce many of the behaviors discussed in this segment. Involving parents by providing them with good information on how children need opportunities to develop and practice social and emotional skills helps. Many times I feel parents do not quite understand these are skills children need time to learn.
I have experienced this in my classroom, as well as my own neighborhood before I started teaching. Thank you for stating that this is a real occurrence and that is does happen. I was not crazy, or neurotic. What I experienced was mostly from lack of empathy from the other child who controlled his friends’ choices.
At the beginning of school the year, my teaching partner and I call our class, the “Classroom Family”. We are also advocates for the child who needs some extra help. Showing our students that we like to engage with this type of child goes a long way to making that child feel accepted. It has helped reduce the nervous behavior of such a child, as well as more friendly interaction from peers. These children often start the day with a hug from one of us.
Darlene Ake says
Part of my social emotional curriculum includes compliments. We have one child a day come up and the other kids say nice things about the student of the day. What they are wearing, their looks, what they can do, what they did for someone, etc. we lead /model this with them and try and lead away from the I like her shirt into I like they way she helps…. or she is nice to others, he shares and plays with me. This really seems to help.
Mary Catherine says
Darlene, what a sweet idea. Thank you so much for adding to this conversation. I love the idea of modeling compliments for the kind things children do, how hard they’ve tried, etc.