Pre-school problem-solving: When your toddler is having trouble getting along

“Playing nicely,” and its twin, “sharing without being asked,” can feel like holy grails of parenting, but like the holy grail, on some days, they can feel not just out of reach, but mythical, something you hear about but never see. Baby is young enough that he probably hasn’t had the chance to develop any serious conflicts with other children, so if you’ve noticed that he is having trouble getting along with his playmates, there’s probably a pretty simple explanation.

Does he actually not like the other child?

Two-year-olds and almost-two-year olds are tricky. This is because they can look and seem incredibly mature, especially compared to how little they once were, but they’re still at a pretty early stage of development. Even though they’re often walking around like little athletes-in-the-making, and talking enough to make themselves understood, and getting along with you, your partner, and other adults in more and more interesting ways every day, they’re still pretty early in their social development. At this age, many toddlers are just getting ready to get started on parallel play. In parallel play, toddlers don’t really play “with” each other, but rather play near each other, and may be interested enough to watch each other, or even to change the way they play in response to what other toddlers are doing around them.

This means that when toddlers around Baby’s age play “together,” a lot of the time, it might actually look more like ignoring each other, or watching each other warily. There may be some occasional grabbing of another toddler’s toy and then squabbling over it, but mostly, toddlers Baby’s age don’t play together in a very interactive way. This isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean there’s no use in having toddlers socialize at this age. Setting toddlers up near each other, and watching them watch each other, may not be the most exciting part of early socialization, but it’s a great way for Baby to start to get more comfortable with kids his own age, so he may have worked off a little bit of shyness by the time he’s old enough to be interested in interactive play.

Does he not want to share?

Toddlers are young, but they’re also smart, and there’s a good chance that your little one has picked up on the fact that, when other children are around, the adults in his life start expecting him to share. Sharing is an important skill, and one Baby will have to learn eventually, but if the pressure to share is stressing him out, or taking the fun out of playdates, he may not be quite ready to learn about sharing in a serious way yet. Toddlers under 2 often aren’t developmentally ready to really “get” sharing, so playing with or near other kids is going often runs more smoothly in settings where there are enough toys to go around until toddlers are a little more mature.

Are they just not compatible?

It’s not that common for toddlers Baby’s age to have true personality conflicts with other toddlers, but it does happen. If there’s a true personality mismatch – like if another child who you commonly have playdates with plays much rougher than Baby – there’s nothing wrong with respecting the fact that Baby and this other child might not get along so well. This might mean limiting playdates with this child a little, at least until they’re older or maybe more ready to play by the rules, or it might mean supervising those playdates a little more carefully, so Baby feels more comfortable and has more fun.

Ultimately, Baby has a whole life ahead of him to make friends and (hopefully not) enemies. Right now, though, his interactions with other toddlers are probably going to be pretty simple, at least for a while.

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