Several milestones in your child’s life seem to come naturally from sitting up to saying his or her first words. These natural progressions are a part of transitioning to toddlerhood. Other skills, such as making new friends—which requires advanced social skills like sharing, taking turns, and controlling one’s emotions—may require time and assistance from you.
Until roughly age 2, most children engage in parallel play, where they may sit alongside others but do not typically interact with other children. Also, very young children can become overwhelmed with too many other children surrounding them. These factors are important to take into account when teaching your child to make friends.
1. Schedule (short) play dates. One-on-one play dates with a child roughly your own child’s age can help in the friend-making process without becoming overwhelming. If this is not possible, try not to have more than four children at a play date. While timing may depend upon your and the other parents’ schedules, try to schedule a short, one- to two-hour time when your child is not likely to be grumpy due to hunger or sleepiness.
2. Get involved. While you may read horror stories of over-involved parents, toddlerhood is not the time to take a step back. The best way to encourage positive behaviors in your child is to demonstrate them yourself. Play and share toys with the other child as well as your child. When you exhibit signs of good friendship, your child will likely follow suit.
3. Be prepared for a few squabbles. Toddlers are not accustomed to sharing because they’ve largely been playing on their own until now. While you can make extra toys available, be prepared that your child may be upset when another child takes his or her special toy to play with. You can use this as a teaching moment by emphasizing sharing and giving each child a few minutes with the prized toy. Because toddlers do gain security from their possessions, you may want to leave your little one’s absolutely favorite toys at home.
4. Use emotional cues. Your toddler is starting to notice and develop a greater understanding of the world around him or her. You can serve as a guide by helping your child recognize emotions in new friends. For example, if your toddler uses a new friend’s toy and that friend becomes upset, you can say, “Jake is upset because you are playing with his toy, but you didn’t ask if you could play with it.” You could then encourage your child to interact more with Jake before taking a toy. Another approach is to encourage the positive behaviors you do see. For example, when you see the children playing together nicely you could say, “Jake really likes to play cars with you.” This encourages your child to continue engaging in positive examples of play.
- Toddlers will typically engage in parallel play until the age of 2 when they may start noticing and interacting more with other children.
- Scheduling play dates with new friends in groups of two to four can help to expand friendships.
- Parents can supervise and help to guide play while teaching a toddler to recognize the importance of sharing and getting along.