If you're starting to worry that your toddler will never get past the full-blown meltdown when someone touches her toys, don't worry, this too shall pass. As she ventures into the world and encounters social situations, she will start to learn that this somewhat unfriendly, negative attitude will not win her any friends. To help your little one develop her social skills, you can plan some activities that focus on this specific area of growth.
Offer some dramatic play activities for your child. This can be a bin of dress up clothes, puppets, flannel boards, plastic dishes, dolls or action figures. According to Western Illinois University, dramatic play is spontaneous and creative, and requires that children play cooperatively, as they experiment with roles and conflict. The PBS website notes that dramatic play teaches a child to be less egocentric and increases self-esteem. According to the Education.com website, games encourage social development by requiring each child to use verbal and nonverbal communication skills to express their needs and opinions, as well as develop an appreciation for the feelings of others as they interact.
Plan some age-appropriate games for your child, such as tag, board games, or memory or racing games. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that as a child develops her social skills, she will learn to stop being so competitive, so whiny or grabby, and she will start to learn the art of sharing, taking turns and being patient. According to Oregon State University, games and play situations will help your child learn how to communicate effectively, how to show consideration and sympathy, and how to give-and-take. Problem-solving skills and conflict resolution will also start to develop during game time.
Select some books and read them aloud to your child. Reading is one of the best ways to improve your child’s vocabulary and language skills so that he can effectively communicate with others. Often, the story will depict socially appropriate scenes or it tells a story about what happens if you behave poorly toward others. As you read, ask her what she believes will happen next or what she thinks the character should do.
Be a good role model for your child -- she learns a lot just from watching you. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you show her how to express herself by using her own words to name her feelings. For example, you could say something along the lines of, "I see that you're sad that daddy went to work. Why don't we make him a surprise for when he gets home?" Show your child how to handle stressful situations and how to cope peacefully with conflict. If you drop dinner on the floor, for instance, you could say, "I'm frustrated that I made such a mess. Will you sing the clean-up song with me to cheer me up?" Teach her the art of compromise. If she is fighting over a toy with her brother, tell them they each get five minutes to play with the toy and then they have to switch.
Schedule some play dates for your child. These scenarios give each child a chance to show off their favorite toys, play, socialize, and learn how to share each other’s space. Play dates are often a good way for your child to learn natural consequences for her behavior, such as a friend not wanting to play if she hits her, calls her friend names or if she is just plain mean to her friend.
- HealthyChildren.org: Social Development in Preschoolers
- Education.com: Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Western Illinois University: Dramatic Play
- Promoting Children’s Social and Emotional Development Through Preschool Education; National Institute for Early Education Research; Judi Boyd, et al.
- Oregon State University: Developing Social Skills
- PBS: The Importance of Dramatic Play
- WebMD: Preschooler Social Development
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