As your growing little one begins to interact more with others, developing social skills is necessary for forming healthy relationships. The family is her first role model -- the social interactions she witnesses at home teach her how to act toward others. Playtime with other toddlers will also help her develop basic social skills that she will use for the rest of her life.
1 Year Old
Most social interaction for a 1-year-old child is limited to time spent with family. At this age, toddlers are just learning how to interact with others and may model their social behaviors after those of family members. For example, if your child notices that Mommy says "thank you" when Daddy offers her a cup of coffee, he may begin to do the same. Most young toddlers are not yet ready to engage in play with their peers; instead, they may engage in parallel play, in which they play alongside one another. This is an important step toward developing social skills. Even at this early age, a mother and baby play group offers opportunities for your baby to watch how others interact.
2 Years Old
A 2-year-old child may begin to actually play with her peers. She may also engage in pretend play, another important step toward social development. Let children explore and come up with their own ways of play during this time; this will help them develop their own interests. As 2-year-olds begin to learn -- and want -- to do things for themselves, they may become frustrated more frequently and want to do the opposite of what they are told. It can be helpful to try to explain emotions to them. If your child gets upset when a play date is over, explain that you know she is feeling sad but that she will be able to see her friends another time. This will help her identify emotions, making it easier for her to tell you about them later. Offer reasons along with rules. Instead of simply telling her not to take a toy out of another child's hands, explain that if she asks for the toy, the other child may share with her. According to Education.com, children who are given reasons in such situations are more likely to share with others, show cooperation and initiate social activities.
3 Years Old
By age 3, children may show more interest in other children than they have before. They may begin to develop friendships and enjoy having time set aside to play with their new friends. Encouraging playtime provides toddlers with the opportunity to develop skills such as sharing, turn-taking and conflict resolution. These skills will be increasingly important as children get closer to school age. They may also begin to make up their own games and join in games with other children their age.
Concerns About Learning Social Skills
All children develop and learn skills at their own pace. Your toddler may be willing to share earlier than your friend's toddler, or her child may be willing to engage in turn-taking before yours. This is no cause for concern, according to HealthyChildren.org. Toddlers are, by nature, concerned mainly about their own wants and needs. It should be noted, however, that children who haven't developed strong attachments to their parents may have a harder time developing social skills, says Education.com. Also, children may attempt to act out violence they see on TV or games or, in some cases, real life. Even as your child becomes more independent, continue to monitor her exposure to violence and other negative influences. If you are concerned that your child is far behind her peers in developing social skills, talk it over with her pediatrician. She may be able to offer suggestions to help your child make progress.
- Early Childhood Education: How Babies and Toddlers Learn Through Interaction
- Zero to Three: Development of Social-Emotional Skills
- National Network for Child Care: Toddler Development
- Education.com: Factors Affecting Social Development
- PBS.org: Social and Emotional Development
- HealthyChildren.org: Social Development: 2 Year Olds
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images