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TODDLER: GET THEM OFF YOUR BACK: TEACH THEM TO SOCIALIZE

Annabel, mother to 2 and a half year old Zora explains how her little angel becomes overwhelmed when surrounded by ‘strange’ people. Strange meaning, someone else apart from her mummy, daddy or nanny. This may seem an almost normal behavior to most toddlers: clinging to their mothers or fathers and an attempt to carry them results in screams and crying.

“She is always in my arms, and never leaves my hand. In church, visiting friends, shopping…and at times I have to bring her nanny everywhere with me for that extra hand with Zora”, Anna says. “Zora never shows interest in other kids her age, or even if she does, she looks too shy to go join them in play.” Anna continues. Is Zora behind in her social development? Anna wondered. Should I be worried?

Any mother will confess that it is not the best feeling having an anti-social toddler. By this I mean, your little girl or boy will not leave your sight with other people around, not even for a second. This may seem normal since most kids spend a lot of time with their parents and are not yet ready/comfortable to spend time with other strange people. But the worst thing about this is that you cannot carry your toddler with you everywhere. Parents need to be proactive about teaching appropriate social skills. After all, toddlers aren’t born knowing how to share, take turns or wait patiently. In this article Mum and Dad shares tips on how to help your little one get their socializing game on.

 

 

Social-Skill Development

Children begin showing interest in playing with peers around the age of 2. Younger toddlers tend to engage mostly in parallel play, where they play next to other children without much interaction. Even if they wanted to interact with other children, they lack the social skills to do so. Create opportunities to help your toddler learn how to appropriately play with peers and interact with adults. As with any new skill, this will take a lot of prompting and practice.

Mentor

One of the best ways to teach appropriate social skills to your toddler is to model them yourself. Use each community outing as an opportunity to show your toddler how to interact with others. Show them that you can greet someone who you don’t even know. Express other ways to say hi so your child can see multiple interactions. You could also turn social skills into a game by saying, “When we leave the house today we are going to greet ten people this morning.” Point out each social interaction and count each greeting together.

Through Play

While playing with your little one, verbalize specific social skills as you are using them .Say, “I’m going to share this doll with you because that’s a nice thing to do when you’re playing.” Point out how to take turns by saying, “I’m waiting for my turn until you are done.” Use puppets, dolls or action figures to show other skills, such as how to invite a friend to play or how to respond to a child who behaves aggressively.

 

 

Practice

You can practice by involving extended family in helping your child learn and practice social skills in a safe environment. If he makes a mistake or has difficulty, coach him and keep practicing until he develops a better understanding.Do not tell the child exactly what to do. “Instead of telling your child, ‘Say hi to grandma,’ give him an open-ended command. Say, ‘Please come give grandma a nice greeting.'” By leaving it open-ended, you allow your child to think for himself and develop a better understanding of the skills, versus simply repeating what you say.

Play date

Plan a play date with another toddler, but provide a structured activity that gives the toddlers an opportunity to engage in some parallel play. Make a toy box to share with a friend. Fill two identical boxes with similar toys and tell your toddler to invite the other child to play with him. Most toddlers love to be invited to play. This age group often does parallel play, so having two boxes of the same thing allows each toddler to play, and yet they might have social interactions while playing. Stay close by while they are playing and help them interact successfully.

Community Activities

Toddlers do not necessarily need to go to day care just for socialization purposes. Instead, look for opportunities in the community that can offer your child social interactions. Parent and child classes give your toddler an opportunity to socialize with same-age peers. Libraries often offer story times or other activities that provide socialization. Encourage participation in unstructured community activities by going to the playground or a children’s museum. Prompt your child to greet other children. Provide coaching with specific skills, such as sharing and taking turns.

Knowing the basics of how young children develop may help you better understand the social challenges of your child’s first few years and also help you develop reasonable expectations as you guide her toward healthy social interactions. (The suggested ages below are approximate. Some children reach these stages on a slightly faster or slower timetable.)

FROM BIRTH TO 18 MONTHS

The majority of a child’s first social lessons come from interactions with family members. Parents, siblings and grandparents interact with children on a regular basis, providing them with their first experiences of safe and loving social interactions. Through family, children are exposed to a variety of facial expressions, words and sounds, and comforting and playful touches that introduce them to other people and the world.

Thinking abilities. Babies and young toddlers learn about the world through their senses and repeated experiences. Gradually, they will develop object permanence, which is the ability to view others as objects separate from themselves but who remain permanent even when the child is not looking. Notice the delight they experience from a simple game of peekaboo — you were gone, and now you are back!

Social challenges. Developmental researcher Erik Erikson labeled this stage “basic trust versus mistrust.” The goal is for the child to develop a sense of trust and to learn that the world is a safe place. This sense of trust forms the foundation for later stages of development.

Social activities. Here are age-appropriate ways you can promote healthy social interaction with your child. (Age categories build on the previous activities in each category, adding to them, not replacing them.)

0- to 6-month-olds

  • Promptly meet your child’s physical and emotional needs.
  • Talk to your child, provide warm physical touch and make eye contact.
  • Play peekaboo.

6- to 12-month-olds

  • Sing to your child.
  • Read to your child.
  • Look at touch-and-feel books and other board books.

12- to 18-month-olds

  • Go on outings, such as to the zoo or park.
  • Look at children’s books that have pictures of faces.
  • Encourage simple social interactions (saying hi or waving bye-bye).

FROM 18 MONTHS TO 3 YEARS

Thinking abilities. During this time, children increase their ability to use language to communicate, with a noticeable increase in vocabulary before age 3. They still see the world only from their viewpoint and are not able to reason logically or consider the consequences of their actions.

Social challenges. With increasing mobility and abilities, toddlers are learning to do many things on their own that previously had to be done for them. They are more aware of themselves as individuals and desire more independence. This stage is a building block for the development of self-confidence — not only with motor activities such as walking and playing, but also in social interactions.

As children experience positive give-and-take with other children, they begin to develop a positive expectation for future social exchanges. If they occasionally experience a negative interaction with a peer or sibling, they will begin to learn that Mom and Dad are there to help, and they will be OK even when another child makes a poor choice.

Social activities. Here are age-appropriate ways you can promote healthy social interaction with your child. (Age categories build on the previous activities in each category, adding to them, not replacing them.)

18- to 24-month-olds

  • Read books to your child.
  • Play simple taking-turns games.
  • Express a positive can-do approach: “We can find a way to fix that.”

2-year-olds

  • Teach and model sharing.
  • Do puppet plays together.
  • Put your child’s feelings into words: “You seem upset that Bobby is using the red crayon right now.” Suggest positive social solutions: “Maybe you can use another color right now and then use the red crayon when Bobby is finished.”

 

3-year-olds

  • Do art projects together, and ask the child for creative ideas as you do them together.
  • Look at a book with feeling “faces,” and talk about times your child has had different feelings.
  • Make feeling statements about others: “Emma must be excited about her birthday party.”
  • Set up play dates. Require friendly play: “We need to play with the blocks in a friendly way, otherwise we will have to put them away.”

Understanding the developmental stages and the social tasks that your child faces can help you respond in a caring and effective way that empowers her to successfully be prepared for the next stage. As you engage with your little one in a loving way, you help her develop a healthy sense of self as well as build the skills she will need for positive interactions with others in the years to come.