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The Social Life of Toddlers

Katlyn Joy | 7, July 2011


The Social Life of Toddlers

Toddlers are social creatures. They enjoy social interactions with adults and other children, however they definitely don't possess all the self-control, knowledge of social graces or ability to recall rules necessary for simple socialization.

Due to this you can expect melt downs complete with tears, toy tossing and perhaps some aggression like hair pulling or even biting. At the other end of the spectrum are shy children who withdraw or cling to a parent rather than play with other children.

What's Normal at this Age?

Negativity. Expect to hear the word "No!" often in these first few years. While it's normal modeling other types of responses will go a lot better in changing this frustrating behavior than yelling no back.

Inflexibility. Children in the toddler years become quite dependent on expectations. If you always cut their sandwiches in triangles, a whole sandwich may send them into wailing protests. Try to maintain consistency particularly with their schedule, and make small changes in small bites.

Separation anxiety. Even the boldest of little explorers may have a moment of trepidation at being out of mother's sight. It's nothing to worry about unless the clinginess intensifies or persists into all areas.

Tantrums. This is not limited to two-year olds only. Toddlers and even preschoolers will have the occasional melt down. Toddlers may very well have more than just occasional ones. Recognize what triggers them most often and develop strategies to avert those situations.

Parallel play. For a period of time in the toddler years, children will play more or less side by side rather than actually with one another. It is part of the process of socialization and eventually will truly play with peers in an interactive way.

Growing independence in performing tasks. Your toddler may insist on dressing herself or try pouring his own milk. While these efforts may be hampered by their still clumsy motor skills, the independence should be supported.

Awareness of his separate identity. Your toddler knows he is a person apart from you. He is also becoming more aware of her own emotions, but may need help from you in identifying and labeling those feelings properly. He is just beginning to realize that others have emotions too, and will be learning empathy for the feelings of others.

How to Support Your Child's Social Skills

Modeling. When you are feeling happy, sad, fearful, angry show your child appropriate ways to handle those emotions.

Labeling. When your toddler is having an emotion, label that emotion for your child. For instance, if she is angry tell her she is feeling mad. If you are frustrated, tell your child how you feel and why.

Solutions to emotional issues. After labeling an emotion, discuss with your toddler ways to handle that feeling. Say, "Mommy is mad that she spilled the juice. But I'll feel better if I just take a minute and take a deep breath, then clean the mess." Or "You are sad Daddy can't go with us to the park. You can tell Daddy your sad, and maybe he will go with us next week."

Teach your toddler social rules and manners. Let your child know when to say thank you, please and excuse me. Explain the rules and expect to repeat them over and over as your toddler will not retain this information for some time.

Provide your child a safe place to express emotions and vent. Also let your child know every day, and especially during stressful moments, that the toddler is loved and safe.

Don't push children into social situations that they are not ready or willing to experience. Even if he has done it a dozen times before, today your son will not speak to his aunt. Pressuring him may make things worse. If you have a child who is shy forcing the toddler into social settings may make the child withdraw even more. Start small and provide a lot of positive reinforcement. Think in baby steps about the process.

Tips for Toddler Social Lives

Plan social times. Setting up play dates ahead of time gives you a chance to prepare your child for the visit. Also plan for a time when the child won't be tired or cranky, and have some healthy snacks on hand in case the children get hungry or thirsty as this will negatively affect behavior as well.

Have activities that are a balance of physical play and quiet play. Have both unstructured and structured activities ready for the children.

Make sure the children feel safe and that they are being supervised. Some children will worry if they aren't sure and adult is close by, so even if you know you can see the children, make sure they know also.

Don't over stimulate children with too much activity or noise. Start social times with small outings or short visits and work your way up to bigger visits.

When tempers flare, intervene before someone gets bit, hit or otherwise attacked. Toddlers need adult referees as they are not capable of sorting out fair and unfair. However, have a short direct conversation with the children about taking turns or being patient and discuss ways to problem solve whatever difficulty occurred.

Develop empathy with toddlers by teaching them about others' feelings. A related topic is making sure children learn about and appreciate those from different cultural backgrounds than their own.

Related Articles

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New Media and Toddlers Guidelines from Child Development Experts

What TV Programs are Suitable for Children?

How to Say "No!" to Your Adorable Toddler


Showing 1 - 2 out of 2 Comments
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SME Aug 10, 2012 09:01:31 PM ET

My almost 2yr old daughter gets very cranky when we go visiting or on any outings. She whines and cries for no reason at all in front of all the other children.. What can I do

Lex Mar 26, 2013 03:27:34 AM ET

Maybe try bringing a friend onto her own environment. some times my daughter who is 3, gets overwhelmed when there is to much and it helps her to be in her own environment. also helps teach her to share her own toys! win, win! good luck!

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