Parent concern: My 2 1/2 year old is not playing with other children in play groups. How can I get him to be more sociable?
• Social development begins when your child's life begins. Providing your child with his first positive social experience (i.e. with you) begins the foundation for healthy social development. However, babies are unique and born with different temperaments where some are more sociable than others.
• It is important for a child's socio-emotional development to make friends. Having a child that struggles socially may be worrying for parents. The child himself may feel rejected, lonely and left out.
• Remember that toddlers are not capable of socializing in the same way as adults. The most important thing is "me" to the young child, since the majority have not yet developed empathy to play and work with others harmoniously.
• Toddlers are typically devoid of social graces and unable to control many impulses (for example, sharing toys, offering to play with another child). However, your toddler will grow and learn over time to share and cooperate with others; he will learn to be sensitive to others' feelings and work on expressing his own through words rather than aggressive action.
SOCIAL SKILLS: DEVELOPMENT & AGE
First Year of Life:
An infant is a social being from birth, loving other babies and often is very tolerant of toy sharing. While you can try to get your infant to play with others, you should not force it.
Between 1 to 2 Years of Life:
• It is not until 15 to 18 months of age that toddlers begin to understand the difference between themselves and others.
• This is the age where toddlers can become truly sociable. For example, your child may reach out to another child who is crying or laughing; though, he may not understand the reasons for crying or laughter, he does understand that someone is hurt or something funny happened.
• Children less than the age of two years do not make real friends or play together with children of their own age; however, they tend to sit side-by-side doing the same activity. While they enjoy playing with other children (or rather next to other children), they do not yet know how to strike up a friendship.
• By about 18 to 24 months of age, toddlers typically enjoy being around other children. While they engage in parallel play (for example, playing next to or near other children), they may not necessarily play with them. This is normal since your toddler is still learning many social cues from being in the company of other children.
Between 2 to 3 Years of Age:
• Social skills develop at this age; however children may still be more attracted by the games other children are playing with than by particular children.
• Children at this age are more likely to select activities, because they want to be with a particular child. As children approach the age of three, they learn to be sympathetic and generous with others. They also develop real friendships and it becomes clear that boys are more assertive while girls are more communicative.
HELPING YOUR CHILD BECOME SOCIABLE
• Social skills are learned and you are the best person to teach your child how to become more sociable and how to make friends.
• Provide your child with plenty of opportunities to socialize with others. Exposure to other children in a large family, play group or day care will help socialize your little one sooner.
• Do not pressure your child to socialize from an early age since it usually does not help; allow him to socialize at his own pace.
• Model appropriate social behaviour by socializing with your child. (for example, at the dinner table, on an outing, at the playground, reading, playing games).
• Encourage sharing and social graces (for example, please and thank you), and help your child develop conversational skills by consistently talking to him.
• Praise and do not criticize your child. Make him feel good about playing with others.
• Show affection since the child who is more open and affectionate will be more likely to have friends.
• Encourage your child to help out around the house in doing chores and caring for others to develop better social skills.
• Register your child for sports or other activities that he enjoys where he has the opportunities to meet other children who have similar interests.
• Start playgroups beginning with one-on-one time, since it is easier to socialize with one other child at a time. Select a child that he seems to get along with the most. Later, set up larger play dates and play groups so that your child feels more comfortable around more children.
• Encourage cooperative games such as playing ball, hide and seek, arts and crafts, etc.
- In early socializing, supervision is important even when everything seems to be fine. Stay nearby, neutral and do not get personally involved since this may disrupt your child's social skill development.
- Do not let your friendship with other parents embarrass your child or get in the way of his friendships.
- Build your child's confidence since he needs to feel good about himself first before reaching out to others.
- Assess why it is difficult for your child to make friends such as aggression issues, shyness, self-containment, etc. Deal with it accordingly.
-Remember that it is normal for a child to be shy since this may be his personality and temperament. It is okay for your child to engage in quieter activities and not be a "social butterfly."
- Praise your child for participation and encourage responsiveness when he does engage in play activities with other children.
About the Author: Dr. Maurice Levy, an eminent pediatrician, has 30 years of day-to-day medical experience in hospitals and in his active pediatric primary care and consultation clinic. Former Chief of Pediatrics and currently Head of Pediatric Research at North York General Hospital, Dr. Levy has trained and worked in various hospitals across the globe. Along with his medical degree and specialty in General Pediatrics, Dr. Levy has received various specialized diplomas and received numerous awards and publications. For more information, visit: www.babyandtoddlerhealth.com.