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Toddlers are becoming more interested in other people and are learning more social skills.

Toddlers aren't babies any more but they're not ‘big kids’ either. It can be a confusing and frustrating time for them and their whānau, as toddlers want to be more independent but still need to be emotionally connected with the important people in their lives.

Parents will notice their toddler is becoming more interested in the people around them as they become more outward looking. Although they enjoy the company of others, they will still be learning about social interactions. They will be copying and learning by imitating others.

Learning social skills

Toddlers are learning and practising how to get on with others. They lack self-control at this age so their relationships, especially with other children, will still require some adult supervision. Their behaviour will sometimes be impulsive and unpredictable, and they may struggle with sharing or taking turns.

It really helps them if parents and whānau are predictable, consistent and responsive, and understand their child’s developing emotional needs.

They need social interactions to test their ideas and learn about relationships but they may find this difficult. They need parents who can gently talk them through these tricky situations, acknowledging their feelings and using simple explanations to guide their behaviour – for example, ‘I know you’re very upset because Rosie’s playing with the doll you want to play with. Let’s go and choose another doll or a teddy. Maybe you and Rosie can have a tea party with your dolls, or shall we sit quietly for a while and do your favourite puzzle?’

Managing toddler behaviour

Toddlers want to be in control and call the shots, and problems can arise when they're around another child who's a similar age. Their feelings can be intense and they use their whole body to show how they're feeling.

It’s important to be specific and clear about expectations at this stage. Children live in the ‘here and now’ and it doesn't work if our instructions focus too much on the future or the past – for example, say ‘No scratching! That really hurts’ and remove the child straightaway, while comforting the other child if they need it.

Play

Toddlers need open-ended play activities that allow for movement. They don't always need toys. Water play, play dough, sand and earth are good because tamariki can play with them on their own or they can be shared. Guessing games, dancing, chasing or hide-n-seek where everyone can join in can also work well.

Pretend play will also appeal to toddlers and suit their love of interaction and change.

Sharing

When toys have to be shared, parents can try using a timer so everyone gets a fair share. In this situation a child will often find something else to explore in the meantime and may lose interest in what they really wanted a few minutes before.

Some young children can be supported to find their own solutions. For example, ‘You two seem to be having trouble sharing this pram. What can we do about it?’

Other resources

Parallel play (YouTube) | Children's Museum Houston(external link)

Connecting through playgroup (YouTube) | Tākai(external link)