Will My Toddler Play With Others?

February 22, 2010

At  this age, your toddler may be ready and able to form relationships with other children.  She will benefit from increased contact with other children, whether it be in play groups, nursery school, or story time at the library.  Here are some ideas that may help your toddler succeed in peer situations:

  • Your toddler may look to you for comfort as she enters new groups.  She may be excited but scared of new experiences at the same time.  When possible, be available to help ease your toddler into her new surroundings in the beginning.
  • Your toddler will play next to other children, but is not likely to play with others.  It is normal for children to spend as much time protecting and carrying toys around as they do playing.  At this point, it can be better to provide several similar toys to avoid conflicts.
  • Do not expect toddlers to share or take turns.  Right now they are focused on learning how to physically handle themselves, to talk, and to form relationships.  Learning to share will come later, and as pleasing peers becomes more important, your child will learn to share.
  • You can begin to introduce the concept of sharing by modelling for your toddler.  Try saying “Would you like one of my crackers?  I would like to share it with you.”
  • You can create play situations that encourage taking turns, such as a game where you naturally go one at a time.  Play a short game of rolling a ball back and forth on the floor.

There are many things to keep in mind when deciding to arrange “play dates” for your toddler. 

1)      Less or more?  Decide how often to have a play date depending on your toddler’s weekly schedule.  If your toddler is attending preschool, daycare or nursery school, she may welcome one-on-one time with you instead of additional playtime with a peer.  Also consider how much work goes into a play date for your toddler; she is learning and practicing a lot of skills and may tire out from trying to be on her best behaviour.  If your toddler is excited about and has a good time during a play date, you will know that it’s a good thing, but if she acts up before and during the play date or isn’t interested, cut them back.

2)      Short is better.  Most toddlers, especially younger ones, have difficulty coping with long play dates.  Pay attention to your toddler’s ability to tolerate the time you set.

3)      Timing is important.  You know your toddler best.  Agree to play dates at the time of day when she is most likely to be well-rested and fed.

4)      Limit the number of children.  Depending on your toddler’s experience with peers, invite a number that you think your toddler can handle.  Inviting too many may make it chaotic and stressful.

5)      Help your toddler host.  Sometimes your toddler may not enjoy sharing her home and belongings with others.  Help her to feel important by sharing responsibilities like answering the door, choosing the snack, and setting aside some special toys that she won’t have to share.  This will give her a better sense of control and potentially avoid negative feelings.

6)      Always supervise.  A responsible adult should supervise the children at all times to prevent injuries and mischievous behaviour.

7)      Have realistic expectations.  The children may engage in only a few short periods of happy, cooperative play.  This is something to celebrate!

8)      Let the toddlers decide how to play.  It is okay if they are happily playing side by side or even in different rooms.  You can encourage togetherness by setting the stage with certain activities, but don’t force it.

9)      Have a Plan A and B (and maybe C).  Your toddler may play nicely for a while, but if the mood changes, be prepared to distract with another activity.  Maybe they would enjoy doing a craft with you or listening to a story.

10)   Enjoy.  Have fun and relax.