Learning to communicate and interact with your toddler is a challenge. You’re trying to teach them words and norms, and they are trying to understand this confusing world, which usually results in tantrums, food on the floor, and the word “no” being yelled repeatedly. This becomes more difficult when you try to teach your child to interact with other kids.
Put a group of small people with no social skills, emotional coping mechanisms, or grasp on appropriate behavior together, and chaos ensues. But since social interaction is such an important part of our world, how can you help your child navigate these rough waters?
If your toddler doesn’t have siblings to interact with and doesn’t attend daycare, it’s harder for them to learn to socialize. Therefore, it’s important to seek out other ways to help your child learn to interact with children their own age. When they spend their days only talking to adults (like my kid does), you may find that they’re more hesitant to play with other kids. That’s OK, but it’s also helpful to provide opportunities for them to learn to socialize with other children. These tips are helpful for neurotypical kids, but may not work as well for autistic children (I’m using identity-first language here) or otherwise neurodiverse children. You know your child best, so always trust your gut and find things that work for them.
1. Have Realistic Expectations
Knowing what behaviors are appropriate for your child’s age group is important. BabyCenter notes that children younger than 3 years old may participate in “parallel play,” where they play alongside each other, as opposed to playing with each other. So if you see them spending time next to a child without talking (or, more realistically, speaking gibberish), don’t panic.
2. Schedule Playdates With Other Kids
It’s hard for your child to socialize if they’re not encountering other kids. Playdates at your home, other homes, or the local park can be a great way to introduce your toddler to kids their age.
3. Find A Group Or Class To Attend
Aside from one-on-one playdates, classes or groups are important, too. These structured get togethers help your child develop a routine, follow rules, and be in environments where there are many children and personalities to navigate and tolerate. It’s also important to find diverse groups of kids, so your child gets used to not always being around children that look or act like them.
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