Friendships and socializing with other children sometimes comes naturally but often the are bumps in the road even with the most caring and loving child. Check out this guest blog with great tips for new parents to learn the art of helping your toddler make friends.
Helping your Toddler Make Friends
Parents often worry that their toddler is too timid to make friends and every effort to help them socialize seems to backfire. Socialization is an important milestone in your child’s life but some kids take time to make friends. Toddlers want to reach out to other children but like adults, they have fears and insecurities wondering if the other child will steal their toy or refuse to play with them. Don’t let your anxiety get the better of you; instead, work out ways to help your child hone their social skills.
7 ways to help your toddler make friends
1. Take it slow
You were the first person your child interacted with, so although he is now interested in the world around him, he still turns to you for security and comfort. Separation anxiety in toddlers generally peaks at 12 to 18 months so if your child seems a little extra clingy during this period, don’t admonish him for it, instead help him overcome his fears at a slow and steady pace. A simple way to do this is to let him make friends with just one child at a time so that he does not feel overwhelmed.
2. Encourage your child to parallel play
If your child is a little shy, don’t force him to interact with other children. A simple way to coax him out of his shell is to encourage him to parallel play – where he can play by himself while sitting next to another toddler who is also playing by himself. Parallel play is the first step of socialization as your child will soon move from parallel play to parallel-aware play, where they acknowledge each other with a tentative smile.
3. Be an “emotion coach."
It’s natural for children to experience negative emotions so teaching your toddler to control these responses will go a long way in helping them socialize with other children. Don’t dismiss their negative emotions but instead talk to them to understand what they are feeling so that you can help solve the problem. A recent study found that children are better at regulating their emotions and developing friendships when their mothers used emotion socialization strategies.
4. Get involved in playtime
You dread the thought of turning into a helicopter parent and so you try to fade into the background and allow your toddler to learn on his own. However, this will probably bring your child’s insecurities and fears to the surface and they may feel abandoned. Instead of adopting a ‘sink or swim’ attitude, you can arrange a playdate where both the mums get involved in playtime. Play with the other child as well so that your toddler can follow your example and learn to make friends easily.
5. Don’t force your child to share
“Give your truck to Michael, you need to share it… play with another toy” – if this sounds like something you would normally say to your toddler, you might be doing more harm than good. Forcing your child to share can have the opposite impact on your child’s sharing skills as they instinctively feel that their ownership is being challenged. Instead, of forcing your child to share, teach your child to take turns with playing with a toy. Never snatch a toy from your child and give it to his new friend as you’re modelling grabbing which will make your child more possessive.
6. Time your toddler’s playdates
Whether it’s music, baking, standup comedy or setting up a playdate, timing is everything! The most important thing is to decide a start time and end time to the playdate. When scheduling, choose a time when your child is least likely to be tired or cranky – generally, this is the morning. Limit the playdate to 45 minutes to an hour as your child will probably get tired or fussy if playtime lasts for over an hour. It is better to keep first interactions brief and only once your child is comfortable with his new friend, you can extend the playdate to over an hour.
7. Teach your child empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings and feeling another child’s pain would be unpleasant so obviously your child’s instinct would be to avoid it. Parenting experts at Whattoexpect.com recommend that you talk to your child about these feelings and help to bolster his self-regulation skills so that he feels secure which will allow him to overcome this reaction. Encourage your child to understand what his friend is feeling so that he can understand his actions. For example, if your son grabs his friend’s toy, don’t try to take it away from him immediately, instead, explain that his friend is sad because your son took away his toy. Always follow-up with what your son can do to solve the problem – in this case, you can tell him that his friend will be happy once he gives the toy back.
Some toddlers take time to develop social skills so learn to be patient with your child and understand that all of this is new to him. Don’t force him to interact with others but instead gently encourage him to make friends. There will be small squabbles along the way – be prepared for that and help to handle it and learn from it. Aggression in toddlers is a common problem and arises out of fears and insecurities so the best way to prevent such problems is to foster a strong sense of security so that he knows you will always be there for him.