16 - 18 Months

Should my toddler be playing with friends?

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It’s natural to want to see your child playing happily with other children and making their first friends. But your toddler may not be ready to have playmates. Young toddlers do occasionally have social interactions with each other, but they don’t yet have friendship skills like sharing, cooperating, and negotiating conflict. 

Does my toddler need to play with other children?

Right now, your toddler’s most important playmates are you and the other adults that care for them. Through these relationships, your toddler learns how to interact with others, identify emotions, and engage in the give-and-take of social interactions. They also receive your empathy, affection, and care. All of these experiences teach your toddler what a relationship looks and feels like, which can help them form healthy friendships with other children and adults as they get older.

How toddlers may ‘play’ together

When your toddler is with other children—at child care, on play dates, or in play groups—you may see glimmers of the social relationships to come. They may exchange a smile or a giggle while they both bang their hands on a table, or try to hand each other their snacks 😉 

If your toddler often plays with the same children, their face may light up when they see a certain child. Research suggests these peer preferences can last for years. But many toddlers don’t have a particular playmate or are more interested in being with a caregiver. So don’t worry if your child doesn’t seem interested in other children just yet. 

Here’s how you can help your toddler start building their friendship skills

  1. Play peekaboo or roll a ball back-and-forth to demonstrate how to take turns and enjoy interactions with others. 
  2. Give your toddler choices. Ask them, “Which toy should we play with?” and give them time to process your words before pointing to a toy or puzzle. This is how they begin to learn the patterns and expectations of social interactions. 
  3. Respond to your child consistently and with empathy. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. It teaches your child that relationships mean people care about and can count on each other.

Read more about the research

Howes, C. (1983). Patterns of friendship. Child Development, 54(4),1041-1053. 

Thompson, R. A. (2000). The legacy of early attachments. Child Development, 71(1), 145-152.

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Posted in: 16 - 18 Months, Bonding, Social Emotional, Attachment, Lovevery App, Child Development

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