Building Relationships in Early Childhood
Whether this is your child's first year in the Early Childhood program or their third, this is likely a time of year rich with the opportunity for new friendships. Children's interest in their peers evolves during these years, from early experiences with "friends" who are mostly characterized by shared activities to more nuanced friendships with peers chosen from affinity for their personalities. Understanding your child's social development can help you to make sense of their school experience. A younger child, for whom solo activities or parallel play may be most appealing, won't be able to answer the same questions at the end of the day about, "Who did you play with?" as an older child will. Likewise, an older child who is exploring more authentic friendships for the first time may need more support in understanding why those friendships are less predictable than they're likely to be when all the children have grown in their social adeptness. Meanwhile, parents often judge their child's happiness at school by whether they have many friends and seem to want to play with them all.
In these early days of the school year, steer clear of the kinds of end-of-day questions that demand more specifics from your child. Instead of asking, "Who did you play with?" opt for more open-ended questions about their choices. "What was something that happened today that made you laugh?" Follow their lead in conversation by demonstrating interest in what they have to tell you. (In other words, make sure you've put away your phone during dismissal at the end of the day, and that you have some time right after picking up your child for them to debrief with you however they choose.) If you're interested to know who their peers are and how their social development is unfolding, ask for those details from their teachers, who are better suited to tell you why your child may choose to work alone or to identify whether your child's "friends" are interesting primarily because they share other interests or because developed friendships are unfolding.
At this point in the year, focus your social and relationship-building attention on the teachers and other parents. Children are often too tired at the end of the day, and the activities of the day too distant in their memories, to offer you the kind of detail that will give you comfort. But building healthy, reliable relationships with the other adults who are caring for your child can often get you that same information while serving your own need to know that your child is in a community that's responsive and warm. Your child's teacher may not have the time during arrival and dismissal to talk with you at length (and, indeed, you don't want them to... they're with the children!) Instead, make sure to attend any school programs that are offered now for details about the classroom. Get those surveys or initial questionnaires back promptly, and, whenever you can, take advantage of volunteer opportunities in the classroom. Send an email asking for a recommendation of similarly-interested peers and families to invite along to the playground or park after school, and reach out to other parents to help build the connections you will both need as the year goes on. And don't overlook the small ways in which you can build a relationship with your child's teacher: the happy notes, the "Hey, thanks for all you're doing," feedback, the eye contact at arrival and dismissal when you say, "Good morning," or "I hope you had a great day." In our busy lives and especially when we're transitioning children from one space to another, we sometimes overlook the need for social graces with other adults. Breathe out, make eye contact, and smile. It goes a long way.