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Suddenly Social: Teaching Young Children How to Get Along


As parents, we’ve all been there. Watching our kids at the park or at birthday parties: seeing them playing alone when there are so many new children around. We think ‘why is he/she alone?’ After all, there are new kids around. Do they not know how to make new friends?

The answer is they do, but they may not be ready yet. Children develop social skills in stages. By 2 – 4 years old, children are more aware of their surroundings, becoming more verbal and learning social cues from others. When surrounded by children they don’t know, children may not have developed the skills yet to initiate a new relationship. Don’t be too concerned if your child is spending time alone when in bigger groups of children. They’re just observing and understanding social sitatuons by watching others.

Role playing with your child is a great way to help them develop these skills. Here are a few tips:

  1. Start with activities they like. You know what makes your child most comfortable, whether it’s playing with Legos or time outside. Start with a time that they’re relaxed and comfortable and ask them to invite you to play. Play with them and invent different scenarios and ask them what they would do. Helping children work through different situations will make it a little easier for them to deal with when they actually come up.
  1. Taking turns. While playing with your child, show them what it means to take turns and share toys. Play the ‘other child’ role and refuse to give up a toy they’re asking to play with. Show them that it’s acceptable to get angry, but not to use hurtful words or hands to hit. Discuss with them how there are other toys to play with while thy are waiting their turn to play.
  1. Run through scenarios. By acting out different scenarios through play, you’re showing your child how the way they act, and react, will have different consequences.

While huge changes won’t happen overnight, eventually your child will feel comfortable enough to reach out to new children in a variety of situations and ask them to play. Don’t be tempted to intervene too much: little squabbles and differences with other kids are normal and a part of growing up. Instead, supervise play time and once the activity is over, talk to your child about what happened and try to talk with them about how they could have handled things differently. Teach them that there’s always a next time!