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

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

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.


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.


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

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