Learning to play with others is not innate to a child. How can it be encouraged?
Learning to play with others can be quite challenging for toddlers. Your child needs guidance to connect with others. Learn how you can help.
Social skills development
Playing with other children is not that easy for toddlers. To make it happen, a child must develop several social skills, i.e. attitudes and behaviours that make it possible to get along with others.
The attachment bond you form with your toddler helps them improve their social skills. A child who feels loved, confident, and secure is more open to reaching out to others.
A toddler has to learn how to:
Make contact with others.
Wait for their turn.
Express what they want and how they feel.
Manage small disagreements.
A child cannot develop great social skills overnight; they progress gradually, day by day, taking time to develop. As your child learns to speak, they become more comfortable making contact with others and expressing their emotions through words. The better their reasoning skills and judgment, the more they are able to share, find solutions to resolve small disagreements, or even control their impulses to wait for their turn.
How can you help?
Here are some tips and actions to help your child play and get along with other children.
- Show your toddler how to approach other children and to say hello with a smile. You can also encourage them to go to another child by suggesting they share their toy.
- Encourage them to speak when they want to play with a friend. For example, they could ask: “Do you want to play?” or “Can I please play with your toy?”
- To develop their patience, explain when their turn is coming when they are waiting in a line. Instead of telling your child: “Wait your turn!” Try to say: “Now is the little girl’s turn on the slide, after it will be your brother’s turn, and then it will be your turn.”
- Play board games with your child to help them better understand the concept of taking turns.
The more experience your child has with small successes, the more confidence they develop in interacting with other children.
- Encourage your child to share by pointing out the positive reactions of others when they say yes to lending their toy. For example, say: “Look, your friend is smiling. He’s happy because you lent him your truck!” It takes time and a lot of patience to learn how to share. This skill is rarely acquired before 4 years old.
- Encourage your toddler to verbally express their emotions or frustrations. If they seem upset while playing, explain that you understand how they are feeling, but there are some behaviours that are more acceptable than others. For example, tell them: “I know you really want to play with the puzzle, but Marianne is using it right now. You have to wait for your turn, even though you really want to do the puzzle now.”
It’s not easy for a toddler to take their place in a group while respecting that of others. How to help your child to live in harmony with friends.
- Guide your child in resolving disagreements with friends. For example, you can help them understand the other child’s point of view: “You took the puzzle away from Marianne, and that made her cry.” Then help solve the conflict: “Maybe you could play with a different toy?” If this doesn’t seem to work or the toddler is too young, suggest another solution: “How about we give the puzzle back to your friend and wait until she’s finished before you play with it?” This will also help them understand the concept of sharing.
- Let them choose their own friends. Toddlers do not necessarily establish friendships simply based on their parents being friends or family members. Learning to get along with others takes time, so let your child develop at their own pace and choose friends who share the same interest in certain games.
- Be a good role model for your child. When they see you behaving positively with others, you are setting an example. Say hello to people and show your child you also share and wait your turn, and kindly ask for things when you play with them and when you are with friends.
Struggling to play with other children
If your child has trouble fitting into a group or getting along with others, observe them and see if you can help them integrate. Take them aside and talk about the situation, where they would like to play, and what they could do to be accepted. To help them mix with others, you can give them a toy that fosters playing a game in a group. From age 3 or 4, some children have difficulty being accepted by others due to their behaviour or lack of social skills. If your toddler feels rejected, it is important to try to determine if their behaviour is causing this situation and to help them work on their social skills.
Things to keep in mind
As they grow, a child develops social skills that will help them play with others.
Your toddler needs you to support their learning in how to get along well with other children.
You serve as a role model demonstrating to your child how to share, wait their turn, and kindly ask for things.
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: September 2018
Photo: iStock.com/Weekend Images Inc.
Useful links and resources
Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.
DUCLOS, G., D. LAPORTE and J. ROSS. Les grands besoins des tout-petits. Éditions Enfants Québec, 2007, 224 pp.
FERLAND, Francine. Le développement, l’enfant au quotidien, 2nd edition. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2014, 260 pp.
ENCYCLOPEDIA ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT. How can we help preschool children get along with their peers? www.enfant-encyclopedie.com
CÔTÉ, Geneviève. Sans toi! Éditions Scholastic, 2011, 32 pp.
LES ÉDITIONS PLACOTE. Toy collection: Socio-Emotional Development. www.placote.com
LES ÉDITIONS SCHOLASTIC. Coll. Entre amiswww.scholastic.ca