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Social & Emotional Activities for Toddlers Using Shapes

by Erica Loop

Toddlers are just beginning to recognize their own and other people's feelings, according to the child development experts at PBS Parents. Before trying the same old thing when it comes to social and emotional activities for your toddler, use shapes as a way to encourage learning. Play to your toddler's artsy edge and help her interact with others and express her feelings, using squares, circles, triangles and more.

Shape Sorting and Sharing

By 2, most toddlers can sort simple shapes. Instead of only focusing on learning geometry, use a shape-sorting activity to help your 1- to 3-year-old child better understand social and emotional concepts. Get your toddler together with one of his friends and give each child his own bucket -- setting the kids up about two feet away from each other -- and place a pile of cutout paper shapes in the center. Pick two shapes, such as a circle and a triangle. Give each toddler one shape to start and let them pick through and sort the rest of the pile -- one at a time -- adding their own shapes to their buckets. This game teaches the toddlers how to identify shapes and encourages them to share, take turns and use self-control.

Group Art Activity

Instead of asking your toddler to make her own shape collage, drawing, tracing or painting, turn these artsy activities into group lessons. Help your toddler work on self-control as she listens to others, takes turns, and shares with a shaped-themed team project. Start with a piece of poster board or a piece of large butcher paper. Give your toddler and her friends, a pile of pre-cut construction paper shapes. Have the kids assemble the shapes into a collage with glue sticks. This activity forces the kids to work together, to respect each other's space and share materials. Alternatively, try a similar craft, substituting shape stampers and tempera paints for the collage process.

Emotion Shapes

Toddlers have difficulty understanding feelings and controlling their behavior, according to the Zero to Three website. While it is common for a young child to struggle with emotional expression, you can help your toddler build this skill. Make positive-emotions shapes such as stars or hearts out of paper, and add smiley faces to the shapes. Create another group of paper shapes that feature negative emotions such as a sad or angry face. Use a variety of shapes such as circles, squares, rectangles and triangles. If your child is having trouble using his words when he feels a powerful emotion, ask him to pick a face shape to show you what he is feeling. As your toddler gets better at identifying the shapes, add the word for the feeling when he holds up the shape. Ask him to say the word, eventually removing the shape from the equation and letting him use his speech to communicate.

Shape Distractions and Redirection

Although it is not uncommon for toddlers to act aggressively, you do not want to reinforce this type of behavior by doing nothing. For example, if your toddler is hitting her sister because she can't control her anger, you don't want to allow this action to continue. The experts at Zero to Three suggest that parents offer alternative activities or try a distraction to mitigate an aggression-fueled situation. Give your toddler rubber or soft plush shape blocks that feature three-dimensional squares, rectangles, spheres and more. When your toddler feels angry and wants to hit someone, have her pick a shape and throw it at the floor or toss it outside. Add an extra layer of distraction to this activity by requiring your child to say the shape's name before she throws it. This will help to redirect her emotionally out-of-control energy in a more socially acceptable way.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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