One concern that frequently comes up when I am seeing parents of toddlers is When Will My Child Start Playing (Nicely!) With Other Children?
At the moment you are probably your child’s preferred playmate but you meet up with other moms at the park or playgroup and your kids probably either ignore each other or (what brings the most concern) shove or steal one an other’s toys. Rest assured this is typical toddler behavior but what can you do to help your child to learn to be sociable, especially when your 3 year old is about to start pre-school.
Encourage sharing when you and your child are playing together by asking him to give you a turn with his toy. Play with it for a few seconds, then hand it back, saying: “Thank you, now it’s your turn.” Very slowly, over weeks, build up the time you play with it before giving it back and he’ll start to get the idea: I am supposed to share. At first he’ll probably just play alongside others when you get together with other families, not so much with them. That’s called parallel play. But as he approaches age three, he’ll start to enjoy group play more. He might even be willing to share a toy or take a turn occasionally with your smile and praise to guide him that he is doing the right thing.
Even if your little one is the shover or thrower of sand, give her lots of opportunities to interact with other kids. If your child is not at the same stage of sharing as her friends, talk to the other moms and explain you are working on it rather than being embarrassed by your child’s behavior and not going along to the play dates. All that togetherness — combined with a toddler’s poor impulse control and limited social skills — will inevitably lead to squabbling, hitting, and pushing. I know these are just the behaviors you’re trying to avoid but learning to share and not push takes plenty of practice.
So how do you minimize spats?
- Be sure there are lots of toys to go round
- Don’t make her share her most special toys. When you are hosting, put special toys away and don’t take them when you visit someone else.
- Show young children how to play games that encourage teamwork rather than just leaving them to play by themselves for all of the play date. Games such as rolling the ball to each other or everyone having a crayon and drawing together on a huge sheet of paper work well. There will be lots of books at your local library that can give you ideas for similar activities.
Despite all this preparation it is inevitable that disagreements will break out. Stay close to quickly intervene and your best bet to quickly dispel disagreements is distraction. Separate the combatants and redirect them to a new toy, show them something much more interesting or maybe it’s time for a snack.
Don’t worry, one day you will be able to sit back and chat to your friends and watch all you kids play nicely…for a while at least!