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Social Development: Teaching Your Toddler How To Be Friendly.

For the month of August, we will be exploring different aspects of children’s social development; why is my toddler so anti-social? Why is my preschooler so rude? How do I teach my child to be courteous? These are some questions, which many parents have asked me during the years of being a teacher. For this week, we will be looking at the social needs of toddlers so that we can align our expectations and be more confident and competent with supporting their developmental needs.

Unlike older children or adults, toddlers don’t yet see the need or importance for socializing with others aside from their close family members. This is the stage where they often engage in solitary, parallel and associative play. According to Docket and Fleer (2002), very young children will learn to play on their own (solitary play) before moving on to playing alongside without much engagement with others (parallel play) and playing in a group by mimicking and copying the actions of others without any particular goal or interaction with others (associative play). With this in mind, there are a few things, which we can do to help young children be more comfortable in the presence of others:

1) Create opportunities for your toddlers to be with other children. This is really important if your toddler does not have any siblings. Even though there will be little interaction between them, its really good for them to get used to being around others so that they can observe how other children behave, how they interact with their primary caregivers and just being comfortable with other people. This is when regular playgroups and play dates come in handy because it allows toddlers space to explore different experiences with different people.

2) Create opportunities for associative play. If you are organizing a play date or a playgroup, it helps if you do a collective circle time where you read a book, sing songs, do a little music and movement, play with instruments or even to play simple games like ‘Simon says’ so that children have an opportunity to copy each other’s actions and to have a feel of being in a group of children just like them.

3) Create opportunities for them to be in a mixed age group. Our society believes in educating our children by grouping them by their year of birth. This is not very helpful especially for children who come from single child families. Mixed age grouping (or often referred to ‘vertical grouping’) provides a more natural environment, like being at home with many siblings, for children to play different roles within a varied group dynamic. You have the older children who are negotiating and learning to come to a compromise with others, some of them may be experimenting with different ways to sort out their differences while the babies in the group will be playing by themselves and the toddlers who are eagerly watching, observing and trying to pitch in anyway they can. Toddlers in such environments get to learn from both the younger and the older ones alike.

4) Be a good role model. As a teacher for many years, I have worked with countless children who are a carbon copy of their parents when it comes to behavior. We can teach our children basic grace and courtesy by greeting others, saying our ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’, being kind, compassionate and considerate to others.

Read more about how you have an integral role to play in promoting healthy social development within your home environment in ‘Cool stuff your parents never told you about parenting’ (available on

Docket, S., & Fleer, M. (2002). Play and pedagogy in early childhood: Bending the rules. South Melbourne, Victoria: Thomson.
Tan, F.K. (2013). Cool stuff your parents never told you about parenting. Xlibris.

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