Now that Baby has passed their second birthday, they are moving around as much and as well as they ever have, and they may start to seem more interested in other children, too, whether it’s on the playground, in daycare, or with their cousins. They are taking a step forward, but their social skills are still evolving at this age, so be prepared for a few bumps along the way.
It’s all about Baby
During the third year, toddlers are generally very inwardly focused – in many ways, they seem to only think of themselves. It’s not selfishness, though – children this age really don’t have the ability to consider the feelings of others, which is why sharing is such a tough concept for them. They will move past this challenging phase, but for now, it’s totally normal and expected.
The world of two-year-old play
Two is also the classic age for what’s called parallel play. Put a group of 2-year-olds together in a playroom, and typically you’ll see them playing near – but not with – one another. This independent play can actually help keep feelings from being hurt. Sparks can fly when toddlers play together since they see no problem with grabbing a classmate’s truck or stuffed bear.
Toddlers can be bundles of emotions, and an emotion that bubbles up a lot in the third year is frustration. It’s more expected when toddlers struggle to get dressed or have to wait in line on a shopping trip, but frustration also can show up at playtime. A toddler may want to play (now) with the building blocks their playgroup friends have, or may get upset when an older cousin can get the toy train to move so much faster than they can. While this frustration is normal as toddlers’ skills develop more slowly than their ambitions, it can make it so playtime with friends isn’t all fun and games, too.
I’ll try that myself
As two-year-olds become more aware of the world around them, imitation becomes a big part of how they play. Baby may start making breakfast in their toy kitchen the way they see you doing, or they may insist on bringing along the new doll stroller every time you go to the store.
As they learn by watching you, there are strategies you can try to make sure they are learning the things you mean to teach them.
- Be on guard for good behavior: Help teach Baby your expectations for how they treat other people. You can do this by letting them know how proud you are when they play nicely, instead of waiting until they do something they shouldn’t and having to correct them again and again.
- Look out for landmines: Keep an eye out for toys or situations that cause Baby stress. If they get frustrated playing with the toy car at Grandma’s, show them where they can place their hands so it moves more easily. If the new puzzle set leads to conflicts when friends come over, put it away for a while and reintroduce it when Baby has the chance to play with it without interruption.
- Keep up activities and outings: Consistency and repetition help toddlers improve their skills, and social skills are no different, so try and make regular plans where Baby will have the chance to play with other kids. From free story time at the library to weekend playground dates with friends, these outings – especially when they happen on a regular schedule – will give them the chance to practice those social skills – and practice makes perfect.
Baby’s parallel play phase will probably last a while longer, but playing near each other is a great way for toddlers to work up to playing with each other – and in the meantime, they’re learning just by watching each other play nearby.
- “Cognitive Development: Two-Year Old.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Cognitive-Development-Two-Year-Old.aspx
- “Emotional Development: 2 Year Olds.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Emotional-Development-2-Year-Olds.aspx
- “Developmental Milestones: 2 Year Olds.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 6/1/09. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Developmental-Milestones-2-Year-Olds.aspx
- “Social Development: 2 Year Olds.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Social-Development-2-Year-Olds.aspx