‘Best friends’ mean different things to different people. It can be the person that you turn to as soon as something bad happens, or it can be the person that you do fun things with. Whatever it means to you as an adult there’s a good chance your child will have a very different idea! A best friend to a toddler may be someone who plays the same games that they do, or someone who they see twice a week, or someone who they look like. They will talk about their best friend a lot, want to say goodnight to them as they go to sleep, or want to have things that their best friend does.
It is absolutely normal for a pre-school child not to have a best friend. At this age, children are exploring who they are and what other people are like. They are trying lots of things out and this will mean having lots of different kinds of relationships with other children. Until they start nursery or preschool, children will end up spending most of their time with their mother’s friends’ children. For example, NCT groups can continue to meet for a few years, meaning that the children play together regularly even though they haven’t chosen to. Once they start nursery, childminder or pre-school, children are more able to pick their own friends. Boys will tend to become friends with boys and girls with girls (although there are exceptions to this). This is because friendships are built around play and shared activities, and around the world, it has been shown that boys and girls play differently and with different things. Children who like dinosaurs or babies will end up moving towards the dinosaur figures or the little house, and will meet likeminded children there. Each time this happens, bonding increases and friendships become stronger.
Strong friendships often develop when a child is in a situation without their parent (e.g. nursery or child minder). Usually, it is the parent who acts as a safety blanket for their child – someone that their child turns to if they’re feeling unsure, someone who can give reassurance and encouragement. If a parent isn’t there, children will turn to other children for some of this support. Friendships can develop when a child finds it comforting, distracting and fun to be with another child – the more they spend time together the more comfort they will derive from this friendship. Whether a friend becomes a best friend can be highly dependent on the parents though. If a child talks a lot about another child from nursery, parents can act on this and invite the friend over for a playdate. However, if parents chose not to do this, there’s a good chance that the friendship won’t become quite so cemented.
As every adult knows, even best friends can be annoying or bewildering. However, a best friend is someone who is there through thick and thin, and who doesn’t hold a grudge. The same is true for little children. They won’t always get on with their best friends, and in fact may squabble with them quite a bit. However, their connection means that they make up easily and are quick to forget what made them cross.