You likely know that positive peer groups are vital to your children’s social development in the pre-teen and teen years, but in preschool? Yes! If your child is in daycare, he will be mimicking behaviors of other toddlers, both good and bad. The more time spent in the company of adults during pre-school years, the better behaved a child will be; however, peer group interaction is important in a limited and supervised way for toddlers. Once you have begun to instill the basics of good behavior in your tot, such as empathy, sharing and self-control, you must put him “into the ring” with other preschoolers that are also struggling to “be good.” According to "Children's Peer Relations and Social Competence: A Century of Progress," by Gary Ladd, some very basic behaviors are influenced by peer interactions in children as young as 6 months.
Even preschoolers begin to learn about conflict management, assertiveness and how to control aggression from their peer group. When approaching the playground, avoid putting little Billy in with the group that looks like it is practicing scenes from “Lord of the Flies.” Toddlers who seem to scream a lot, yank at toys, push at other toddlers or show unhappy faces will, of course, not be the best playmates or models of good behavior for your tot. Children who are sharing, seem to be “policing” the playground and exhibit happier dispositions are better groups to look for. Play with the group for a while and help your child model good assertive behavior.
If parents teach their child to be empathetic, a child will be more likely to be empathetic toward other children; however, once she comes into a peer group, the group as a whole must be open, empathetic and willing to accept others as opposed to “bullying” new children. Mini-mob mentality is an issue that is seen in preschools, and once a child develops a victim mentality, it is difficult to shake later in life. Peer groups that stand up to bully behavior, stick up for the little guy and act like tiny caregivers to their peers help to foster good behavior and values that will be built upon in the future.
Toddlers will mimic behavior and desire to be liked and feel included. When a child with a stronger personality begins to show disrespectful behavior toward an adult or caregiver and that behavior is not stopped or disciplined, other toddlers will follow suit. It is, therefore, important for a toddler's peer group to consist of children raised to be respectful and that show respect to authority figures. Respect is contagious, and if your child’s peer group contains children who are respectful and well disciplined, they begin to “police” themselves, encouraging each other to uphold the values and beliefs that they have all been taught in their homes.
Overall, peer groups that are filled with children who have happy dispositions and are not prone to moodiness help promote and foster good behavior. Even preschoolers get along better when their peers' behaviors are predictable and drama-free and the level of personal stress they feel while in their company is low. Behaviors like sharing, playing and working together happen in a natural flow, and the leadership roles among the group flow back and forth.