Making first friends
Forging those early relationships with her peers is a lot more work for your tot than you think, writes educational psychologist Cara Blackie
WE’VE PROBABLY ALL experienced at least one difficult situation at our toddler’s first few playgroups – we go expecting to be able to sit back and relax (finally) and watch our little ones play happily with other children their age. However, this is not often the case and mothers often feel embarrassed as their toddlers either cling to them or ignore all the other children in the playgroup completely.
PLAYING, BUT NOT TOGETHER
While somewhat embarrassing, this is actually normal. Each child’s body and mind develops at a different rate, and your child’s social and emotional development is no different. Toddlers aged one to two interact with other toddlers in what is called “parallel play”. This means that you may see your toddler having no interaction with other children, but rather playing totally separately from them. This is a normal stage of her social development and your child may need more time before she starts interacting with other children.
GIVE IT BACK!
The most difficult part for most parents to watch is when their toddler starts interacting with other children in an aggressive or rude manner. Many children will go up to another child and grab what they are playing with, or pinch them or push them to get what they want. As a mother, you immediately want to jump up and tell your child that that is inappropriate and to give the toy back. But this behaviour shows you that your toddler actually wants to interact with another child or join in on the activity but doesn’t really know the finer points of social interaction just yet.
This behaviour can occur for a long time as it takes children a long time to learn how they can assert themselves without being seen as being aggressive. It’s important to talk to your child and teach her the correct ways of approaching other children without it sounding like you are disappointed in her. You can suggest that your child and the other child create something together with the toy instead of them playing on their own or fighting over it. WHY MAKING FRIENDS IS VITAL FOR YOUR CHILD It’s important for children to learn how to interact with other children as those fundamental skills of social interaction are vital for your child’s development. Children who have friends often have a greater sense of wellbeing, higher self-esteem and fewer social problems as they grow up than young children who shun friendships. Socialising involves the emotional development of your child where she learns how to manage her emotions as well as understanding how other people feel and the best way to respond to these different emotional states. LEARNING ABOUT SOCIAL GRACES A toddler’s ability to interact with other children is seen to be related to their own personality and temperament, as well as any previous experience of playing with children of their age. Often children who have siblings will be more open to interacting with other children at playgroups. However, just like adults, children need some time to become familiar with their surroundings and other children before they interact without your help. Toddlers at this age can get very overwhelmed by new feelings and may, as a result, respond by hitting, biting or screaming and throwing tantrums. FAST FRIEND TIPS There are a few things that you can do to help your child make her first few friends. Children normally start interacting with each other from three years, and the parallel play that you will notice in the beginning is an important step for your child to go through for her future social development, so don’t rush this phase or force her to play with other children.
You can try keeping two of each of a handful of toys that your child likes to play with so that when you have a playdate the children can play with the same toys at the same time, even if it means they play next to each other. It’s also important to keep the playdate short at first; only 30 or 45 minutes will do. And if your toddler is not in the mood for interacting that day, then take her home. You want her to feel that it is enjoyable to interact with other children and not something that brings her distress or unhappiness. Then, most importantly, allow your child to make friends at her own pace, showing her along the way the appropriate ways to interact with other children while still making it fun. YB