Relationships among the age groups, like those of pre-schoolers and grade schoolers, seldom last long. The reason is the way they go about making friends. As in the 3-4 age group, the direct approach (asking someone to be your friend) seldom works. Relationships come about by "accident"; for example, finding themselves seatmates after the teacher had assigned seats, or sharing fun in certain games. "But when changes are made in class, such as a shake-up in the seating chart, the majority of new friendships fall apart," says one expert.

Experts say that as kids get older, personality counts for more. "By the time they're seven or eight; their strongest friendships can weather all sorts of obstacles." Nevertheless, they add, kids these ages still need some help (from parents and teachers) "with their social skills, as well as their academics." This is stressed by education professor who says, "The really good teachers I know regard school as a place where people learn to live in democracy. The classroom is a little world where it's awfully important to get along with other people and learn what it means to be a friend."

Experts cite that parents need not overly worry if their kids have only a few circles of friends. They're not into a popularity contest or out to become social butterflies. As has been said once too often, "normal, healthy relationship" is what counts. It's your child's skills in making friends that really count.

If your child has some problems making friends, or certain circumstances prevent him from starting relationships with his peers as easily as you want, here are some tips from the experts on how to help your child improve his sociability quotient:

• "Most of a child's social interactions occur when playing," says educational psychologist. "By playing games and sports with children, parents have a chance to model the kinds of values and behaviors that facilitate friendships."

• Experts therefore suggest that parents share games and sports with their children on a regular basis.

• Make sure your child has a chance to play with friends on a regular basis, too, says parenting counselor. "Even the shyest of children feel more comfortable on their own turf, and inviting a schoolmate over can put a new friendship on surer footing. It also gives parents a chance to observe their children at play and perhaps offer a few discreet pointers as to how they might have resolved conflicts or handled an overly bossy friend."

• Point out the correlation between your kids' actions and having friends. "As surprising as it seems, young children often don't understand that their behavior has an effect on friendships," says a psychologist. "They simply think people have friends or they don't; kids fail to see that if they hit, or act mean, or refuse to share their toys, they might alienate playmates."

• Find time to discuss your concerns with your child's teachers. A child who is distracted because he has no friends isn't going to be a child who learns well; psychologists aver most good teachers try to integrate social and academic skills.