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How to Begin Helping Your Toddler Gain Social Skills
As parents of toddlers, we tend to pressure ourselves to keep up with the families around us. We want to do what’s best for our kids so that they can be successful later in life, and one of the areas that we tend to worry about is social skills. But the good news is that our toddlers CAN and WILL pick up the necessary skills at the right time, and all we have to provide is some gentle guidance and encouragement. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Social skills start at home
Sometimes we worry so much about good socialization that we forget that the most important social skills are picked up at home! Spend time intentionally interacting with your child the way you might interact with a friend. Take the time to sit down with your child and chat. Listen to what she has to say. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Let her express herself. If your child isn’t very talkative, lead the way in the conversation, but let your toddler experience the give and take that happens in good conversation. When you make the effort to intentionally interact with your little one, you’ll be surprised at how quickly she can gains social skills. You are her first and best teacher!
Play is important
Don’t underestimate the importance of play. Young children do the majority of their learning during play, so take the time to play with your toddler. Get in the floor and race cars or make dinosaurs stomp. Join your child in his imaginary pirate ship. Be a willing and enthusiastic participant in the games and imaginary scenarios that he comes up with. Let him lead for a while, and then have him follow along with games that you invent. Let him see how much fun it can be to play with another person and to work together.
Make the most of public outings
Public outings are perfect learning opportunities, as well. While you’re strolling through the grocery store, take the time to discuss your purchases with your child. Ask her for her opinion about certain items. Encourage her to chat with the friendly cashier for a moment. Let her see you interacting with other adults. If she throws a tantrum and you have to leave the store, take time once she’s calmed down to explain why you had to leave and what behaviors are socially acceptable. Spend time chatting during car rides. Ask questions. Discuss the things that you see while you’re driving. Your child will gain so many social skills just by interacting with you and other adults in a wide variety of settings and situations.
Start small and be thoughtful
Children do need to have the chance to interact with their peers, but don’t throw your toddler into a random group of twenty other kids and expect him to do well. Take your child’s personality and temperament into consideration, and choose locations and playmates carefully, at least for the first several playdates. If you want him to gain confidence and learn difficult skills (like sharing, ahem), it’s likely to happen more quickly in a comfortable, low-stress environment. Choose a playmate who is similar in personality to your child, and invite him to your house or meet him at a playground or park that your child is familiar with. There will be plenty of time for your child to learn how to interact well in larger group settings, but if at all possible, let your child slowly build confidence in low-key situations.
Be confident and positive
Most importantly, remember that toddlers are observant little sponges. Your child will feel most confident and learn most quickly if you are confident in her and give her lots of positive encouragement. Some children will pick up social skills quicker than others, but even if your child struggles, being positive and encouraging with her will go a long way towards helping her to gain the skills that she needs.