Teaching your toddler to play nicely with other children

As Baby starts to take a bit more of an active interest in other children on play dates, you may start to encounter the occasional toddler disagreement over a toy or even grown-up attention. It can be especially hard as a parent to see your little one lash out by hitting or biting another child, but it’s a common toddler reaction – toddlers don’t have the years of practice in social interaction their parents do. Discouraging a toddler’s aggressive or frustrated response to a play date squabble requires a few important tools:

  • The voice: Speaking in a firm, but kind tone reminds Baby that you’re in control, which both discourages them from lashing out and reassures them that you’re in control. A quiet, “wait, let’s stop here,” can help you and Baby take a beat to focus. Placing your hand gently on them to prevent any other further physical interaction is advisable if you think your child is likely to hit again.
  • The acknowledgment: Letting Baby know that you see their of her desires, and that you understand where they are coming from can do a lot to make them feel heard. A simple, “you want that car” will help her feel understood and taken seriously.
  • The direction: Baby is a lot more mature than they once were, but they still isn’t up to very complex instructions. Simple, easy-to-follow directives like “Gentle hands. No hitting,” will get better results at this age than a more complex discussion of why hitting isn’t nice.
  • The alternative: At this age, diversion always works better than telling Baby to stop doing something. Try suggesting an alternative behavior: “Please use your words. Would you like to finish your turn with the car and then share?”
  • The attitude: Consistency and patience are key for both the children and adults involved.

Other factors

Baby’s routine can also have an impact on the success of a play date. If a play date or interaction is happening near naptime, or a mealtime, they may not be able to tap into their still-developing self-control, which means that if they are hungry or tired, they may not be able to keep from expressing those feelings – loudly – as well as a mature adult might.

Should your child act unkindly during a play date or other social event, you may need to remove her from the situation for a few minutes so they can calm down. It’s amazing what a difference a quick time-out to have a cuddle or a snack before returning to the group playtime can have – and if it doesn’t help, that’s often a good sign that it may be time for Baby to head home a little early. If it looks like continuing a play date will just lead to more tricky or aggressive interactions, returning home and trying again another day is always an option. Acknowledging that Baby is learning how to play with other children, and that learning takes practice, can help you both understand that a tough interaction is just an opportunity to try to do better next time.

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