Developing Social Skills in Your Toddler

Social skills are an important, yet sometimes overlooked factor in your child’s development.

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Gone are the days when kids leave the house, play together all day, and come back before dinner. With scheduled playdates, lots of structured activities, social media, and video game play, demonstrating explicit social skills to your child is needed now more than ever.

The toddler years are an excellent time to first expose your child to social situations. Start with providing many opportunities for your child to interact with peers. You may need to gradually build upon social skills at a young age, but taking those first baby steps is important. First playdates are meaningful, but don’t expect toddlers to jump right in and connect with each other right away. Many children at this young age aren’t fully capable of sharing and playing together, but may instead engage in “parallel play” in which they each enjoy separate activities while being together in the same area. Encourage this interaction, however limited it may be, rather than turning to screens which shut the possibility of communication down.

Supervise playdates closely and intervene if needed. Encourage interaction when possible. Ask the children questions and demonstrate how to play together. Organize them into groups or partners and ask them to help each other accomplish something, however small the goal may be. Correct and model good social skills, like sharing or taking turns. Short playdates are usually optimal at this young age -- i.e., about an hour at a time. Keep making connections, even if one playdate doesn’t go as planned.

Take your child to places that other children her age enjoy, such as a park, pool, bookstore, or play gym. Connect with other parents or caregivers; it’s a great way to meet new people with children the same age, set up new playdates, and let him see you engage in social interaction yourself.

Look for events near you that provide social engagement with other children, especially peers of their own age. Classes and activities, such as music for toddlers, exercise at children’s play gyms, and story time readings, can be constructive, especially those which have a leader, freeing you up to monitor and model positive interactions.

Encourage continuing social interaction, but don’t push your child into a situation he may not be ready for, as it may backfire on you. Keep doing the things she enjoys, while gently guiding her to pursue similar activities. Build up to new experiences gradually and watch both his confidence and social skills grow.