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Social development for toddlers

How parents can help their toddlers develop good social skills.

Good nutrition can help your little one grow physically strong. But good social bonds will help him or her become emotionally strong.

Even at this young age, relationships—with other kids and with you—can help your child build trust, confidence and independence; learn to communicate; and learn how to deal with emotions.

How toddlers socialize

Interaction with other kids can help your little one practice sharing, taking turns and resolving conflict, according to Zero to Three. And it will help your baby see how much fun friends can be.

Your 1-year-old will probably play side by side with other children. At this age, children may imitate one another. But they're usually not ready to share or play games together. And, of course, young children are just learning how to control their impulses.

When two young ones are playing with each other, you may find yourself refereeing. But you can help them work through conflict in a way that will model empathy and compassion.

Try some of these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Zero to Three:

  • Help kids recognize and express their feelings in a way that's right for their age.
  • Distract them or try to focus their attention on something else to calm them or avoid disputes.
  • Make a few of your child's favorite toys off-limits to others.
  • If children show aggressive behavior, step in right away.
  • Teach them to share and take turns. Use a timer, and give lots of positive feedback.
  • Limit play dates to no more than an hour.

The shy toddler

Some kids can be outgoing. But others are more likely to hang back and watch other kids play.

Even with encouragement, these children may not want to interact with others. And they may cling to mommy or daddy when faced with new situations. Making fun of or pushing your child may only make him or her feel less secure.

Instead, you can help your toddler get self-confidence by letting him or her move at his or her own pace, suggests the AAP. Don't make a big deal out of it. And offer extra reassurance.

If you're concerned about your child's shyness, talk to his or her healthcare provider.

A parent's role

Your child's interactions with you are just as important as his or her interactions with other kids. You can encourage social development by:

Making special time for your child every day. Don't try to do other things during this time, advises Zero to Three. Your sole attention lets your baby know that he or she is important and interesting to you.

Supporting your child's skills. You can help your child build confidence and competence during playtime by supporting his or her natural curiosity.

For instance, if your baby has a new toy, give just enough guidance that he or she doesn't get frustrated. Try to resist the impulse to show him or her the "right" way.

If your little one wants to help with a grown-up task, try to find a way to involve him or her by making it a game. You could also try to find a job that he or she can do.

Exploring feelings. Listen to your child. And take his or her feelings seriously.

You can play games with your child that will help him or her act out frustrating events. For example, use puppets to practice things like sharing toys with a playmate or adjusting to a new baby. You should also teach your child to express anger in a healthy way. For example, he or she could draw an angry picture or run in the yard.

Finally, label and talk about your own feelings, suggests Zero to Three. This will help your child understand that other people have feelings. He or she will also see that there are ways to deal with powerful or difficult emotions.

Reviewed 12/13/2022

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