Sunday, August 2, 2015

Encouraging Social Development in Toddlers

Encouraging social development starts early. Those toddler years are a great place to start and here are a few pointers in making it a great experience for everyone.

Play Dates
Toddlers and young preschoolers benefit from short play dates with friends or neighbors of the same or similar ages. An hour or 90 minutes is great for the youngest children and can increase over time. You want everyone to end the play date feeling good and wanting more, not frustrated or over tired. Having a light, healthy snack to share is nice along with one planned activity. The rest of the time can be free play. If you are hosting the play date be sure to talk about it prior to the child's guest arriving. Consider limiting the number of toys to be shared and be sure there is enough for everyone. Remember this is practice in social behavior - plan for success.

Mixed Age Interaction
While play with children of the same or similar ages is beneficial, so are opportunities to interact in a mixed age groups. Older children become leaders and helpers for the younger ones. Younger children can learn a lot from older children. Keep groups small so there is plenty of physical space - toddlers need room - and there is enough for everyone to do. Older children can take on the role of planning activities and helping little ones. This is a real character builder for everyone. Again, don't make these dates too long.

Taking Turns
The art of taking turns requires plenty of practice. It can start with the child taking turns with the nanny or parent during play time. Then move onto practice during play dates and mixed group time. Expectations need to be set and gentle reminders given frequently. Sharing one toy can be very hard for some children, but having similar toys that can be exchanged and played with cooperatively makes for happier play time. Taking turns really is a practice based skill - this can go well one day and not so well another, keep at it and make it fun.

Emotional Identification

Toddlers and young preschoolers are a bundle of emotions. Labeling emotions can help children identify what they are feeling and communicate with others. As the adults, it's up to us to label the feelings and explain that everyone has these same feelings. Talking about ways to deal with feelings is also part of the package. While not every toddler can verbalize, they do understand what you are saying and are taking in large quantities of information. They are filing away everything so that they can use this information later. Be patient, consistent and clear.

Imaginative Play
The use of dramatic or imaginative play is a wonderful way for young children to explore all kinds of knowledge parts they are trying to label. Imaginative play acts out what they are learning, observing and feeling. It allows the child to have control over the process of understanding in a way that is unique. Allowing for time each day for this type of play - both indoors and outside - encourages greater understanding of the world around them. Adult should wait to be asked to participate. Sometimes the child wants adult interaction and other times they prefer to play on their own allowing you the time to observe them in their work place - at play.

Time for Self

All children need time to play on their own. Even siblings need some time for themselves. This is the time they don't need to share or try to get along, they can just be. As always an adult being available to them in close proximity is important for them, but we don't need to hover or direct this personal play time.