Believe it or not, cliques begin to form even during the preschool years. The age at which your child begins including other children in her play is also, unfortunately, the age at which children begin excluding others from play. "You can't play here. Christina and I are playing and you can't play." If you overhear these painful comments, try to help the cliquish children find a role for the excluded child in their play. You might say something like, "Looks like you two need a real live patient. Oh, here's one. What's wrong? Are you sick?"
Cliques may sometimes make it difficult for your three-year-old to make friends in preschool. If your child feels rejected or friendless in preschool, first ask the teacher about your child's behavior in the group. Your child may be grabbing, hitting, kicking, biting, or behaving selfishly: All good reasons for judgmental three-year-olds to avoid her. If the problem instead seems to be caused by your child's shyness, ask your preschool teacher to help. Preschool teachers and day-care providers can adopt a number of different strategies that can help your child fit in with other kids. The teacher may choose to:
You can help your child make friends at daycare, too. Arrange several playdates outside of the daycare setting. Your child may feel more comfortable getting to know her classmates one-on-one.
- Help get your three-year-old accepted by one of the cliques in the day-care group.
- "Pair your child up" with another preschooler who is more outgoing, friendly, and popular. This raises your three-year-old's social standing in the group. (Sad but true, social status does exist even in preschool.)
- Pair up your child with a younger child. This increases your child's confidence, self-esteem, and assertiveness without putting any pressure on her to fit in with other kids her age. This may in turn boost her social skills among her peers.
- Assign your child important and helpful duties such as passing out napkins at snack- or lunchtime. Classroom responsibilities will simultaneously increase your child's self-assurance and boost her social standing.
- Break the group into smaller groups. Your child will find smaller groups of children less intimidating. In addition, small groups will almost force her to take part in social activities, because it's harder to fade into the background when you're not in a crowd.
- Suggest moving your child from a large day-care situation into family day care or a smaller class (for the same reasons mentioned earlier).