If you ask a young child why he has a particular friend the answer may be "cause we play together." If you inquire further, the child might answer "Cause he/she builds good roads in the block area for my cars."
Young children can pick their friends for their abilities to meet their particular needs (unlike adults who tend to pick friends for their personalities and common interests). A friend is someone who shares a toy or is a playmate for the time being. Yet these early friends are important. They contribute to a child's immediate enjoyment of school and help in his positive physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth.
The developmental steps, from the egocentric two, three or four year old to the social being of five and older, needs to be learned. A child is not automatically born sharing, caring and thoughtful of others. One of the most important things we can do for young children is provide opportunities for each child to become a more social being.
As with all learning at this stage of life, children need to actually do and/or be shown. Parents and teachers are their role models. The way we talk to children, co-workers, and others is observed each and every day by the children. They hear our tone of voice, see our facial expression and watch for the results of our interchanges with others. If we observe children during their play we might hear ourselves talking. Children have a way of recreating our language, our expressions and our gestures in their pretend play!
Children can learn the social skills of caring, sharing, taking turns, waiting for their turns, and cooperation in many, concrete ways. Besides observing adult role models, children learn the social skills best by being involved in spontaneous play with other children.
By observing how children interact with one another, we can use this information to help them develop social skills, show them how to enter into group play, and even give them a way of handling interpersonal conflicts.