The toddler years are a time when children rapidly develop socially through interactions with their caregivers and peers. Even pretend play with favorite toys and stuffed animals helps children develop their social skills. There are many ways you can enhance your child's social development through play, activities and interactions with other children. According to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, social interactions help toddlers develop such things as empathy, language, friendship and how to resolve conflicts.
Schedule a play date with your toddler and a small group of his friends or children from his daycare, if he attends one. Janell Griswold, a social worker with the Itasca, Illinois School District, recommends sticking around for a few minutes while your toddler breaks the ice with his peers before stepping away. If the play date is in your home, provide the children with interactive toys, such as blocks, puzzles and crayons. Put your toddler's favorite toys away to avoid conflict. Provide snacks to avoid hunger-related meltdowns and try to intervene as little as possible – unless there's a physical altercation. Don't hesitate to separate the kids if the play date becomes too rowdy. Griswold also recommends providing a clear time frame for the play date and plenty of notice that playtime is coming to an end.
Create a friendship scrapbook with your toddler and fill it with pictures and lists of favorite toys and activities of your toddler and his friends. The National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families suggests parents take photos of your toddler's friends, then paste each photo onto an individual sheet of construction paper. Ask your toddler to tell you about his friends' favorite toys, foods and activities and add them to the page in words and pictures. If you're familiar with the child, feel free to add his best traits, such as an amazing ability to share or a great smile. Assemble the book together and pull it out before a play date or another meeting. Share the passages with your toddler while you laugh and talk about his best friends.
Use crayons and paper to encourage your toddler to interact with his peers. On a play date, or whenever your toddler is interacting with other children, offer each of them some paper and crayons. Encourage the children to interact with one another by asking them questions about their artwork. For example, ask one toddler if he likes the color “Jimmy” used, or the way “Sally” draws a smile on her sun. Have the children describe their pictures to each other while they are drawing. After the toddlers are finished, display the artwork and praise each child for playing together nicely.
Music and Dance
Use music to encourage social interactions. For example, bring a group of toddlers together to dance while singing favorite tunes, such as “Ring Around the Rosie” or “London Bridge.” Turn on age-appropriate music and encourage the toddlers to sing, dance and laugh with one another. Teach the children a song about friendship and encourage them to hold hands while they happily sing the tune. Help your toddler create her own special or silly song to share with her friends.