Growing Up Well: Supporting Your Three-Year-Old's Social Development

Strong friendships and family relationships are the source of some of life's greatest joys and provide us with support during life's challenges. Young children are often social from the start of life. They observe how people interact with them. They pay close attention to parents' facial expressions and tone of voice. And they develop appropriate behavior based on what they see. Parents can harness this innate ability, teaching children how to form strong and healthy relationships with empathy and problem-solving skills.


Empathy is a skill — one that we can cultivate and strengthen with practice. Empathy means that we can imagine how someone else is thinking or feeling and then respond in a caring manner. Picture book author Anna Dewdney offers this wonderful definition: "Empathy is an understanding that other people have feelings, and that those feelings count."

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Good friends provide us with vital social and emotional support from childhood through adulthood. It takes practice to learn how to be a good friend — practice at being kind, supportive, trustworthy and a good listener. These are skills kids can begin to learn at an early age. As Fred Rogers said, "One of life’s greatest joys is the comfortable give and take of a good friendship. It’s a wonderful feeling not only to have a friend, but to know how to be a friend yourself."

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Social Problem Solving

As children navigate their social world, they will encounter challenges. These might include disagreeing with friends over how to play a game, learning how to effectively work in a group and working through a miscommunication. Emotions can run high when kids face social challenges — both children's emotions and parents' emotions! But there are concrete skills that will help kids both now and in the future, including learning how to collaborate, cooperate and communicate.

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Practice Being a Good Friend with Daniel Tiger

Through imagination, creativity and music, Daniel and his friends learn key social skills using strategies grounded in the teachings of Mister Rogers.

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Explore our Age-by-Age Guide: