It’s not unusual for parents to picture their cherubic 2-year-old playing appropriately with a toddler friend. After all, parents want their little one to demonstrate social confidence and experience the happiness that friendships provide. You might remain your child’s playmate of choice during the toddler stage, according to the early childhood website Zero to Three. Parents can nurture skills that set the stage for bonding with peers, and provide opportunities for practicing social skills with peers.
Obstacles to Bonding With Other Toddlers
Don’t be surprised to discover that your gregarious toddler prefers to play next to a toddler playmate, rather than with a playmate, according to KidsHealth. This component of toddler development is known as parallel play. Toddlers interact during parallel play, but achieve play goals independently. Communication presents an additional challenge for toddler bonding. Although your toddler acquires new language skills at a rapid pace, she might still struggle to communicate her wants and needs. Your toddler’s self-regulation remains limited, and she needs practice to moderate strong emotions that hinder the development of relationships with toddlers experiencing similar dilemmas.
Acquiring and Practicing Empathy
Empathy requires taking another person's viewpoint and responding compassionately. Egocentrism is common in toddlerhood, and acquiring empathy presents a special challenge for some toddlers. Developing empathy will help your toddler attract and keep friends, and you can foster empathy. Model how to show empathy for others, and invite your toddler to participate. For example, “Our neighbor’s arm is in a sling, and she cannot take her trash out without some help. Would you like to help me carry the trash bag for Mrs. Weiss?”
Build your toddler’s self-confidence to prepare her for solving social problems and making friends. Self-confident children seek out relationships with the optimistic expectation that friendships are rewarding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents demonstrate respect for their toddler’s concerns by listening, and applaud their toddler’s efforts as well as successes. Permit your child to experience the pride that accompanies solving a problem independently by guiding her efforts, rather than making the problem disappear.
Provide Opportunities for Peer Interaction
Emerging social skills such as sharing, taking turns and empathy serve as a source of frustration for some toddlers. Provide opportunities for your toddler to practice these skills by scheduling play time with other kids or visiting a park. Toddler play sessions should always be supervised by an adult. Model how to talk to other toddlers, and give gentle encouragement to your shy toddler. Praise your toddler for socially appropriate behavior with other toddlers, and demonstrate how to problem-solve when conflicts arise.