“Why does my toddler need friends?”

Bonding with other children is essential for your little one’s social skills. Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson explains why, and how you can encourage it

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Children are, by nature, social animals. They instinctively want to interact with each other. That’s why it’s so good for your toddler to have friends – she has much more fun playing with friends than she does playing on her own. She feels positive about herself when she has pals. You may even find your toddler becomes irritable and uncooperative once she’s played on her own too long.

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Friendship stages

Making friends is easier said than done, however. Watch a couple of toddlers playing in a room together – the chances are that they’ll fall out at some point. It’s not that your toddler dislikes other children, she’s torn between her normal feelings of wanting to control everything and a desire to play happily with her friends, which can lead to disruption. You’ll have noticed your tot going through four recognised psychological stages in the development of childhood friendships. In the first stage, as a baby, she’ll have ignored the company of others her own age and played on her own. This is known as solitary play. Then comes parallel play. As she gets a bit older, she plays alongside other children and watches what they do. She won’t have really interacted with them, though. Now you’ll see her in the third stage, called associative play, where she watches some of the time, tries to play with the others a bit, but isn’t able to play together for more than
a minute or two. Lastly, toddlers reach the stage where they enjoy cooperative play with other children. She starts to have particular friends, and they try to play games with rules.

Helping her along

Whether she’s a playdate pro or still getting confident, there are plenty of skills you can help your toddler develop to form friendships.
Firstly, there’s sharing. This skill is difficult for a young child to develop because it involves giving something of hers to another child without getting anything in return. Help her by practising sharing her toys with you at home.
Next is cooperation. This happens when a child works in conjunction with one of her friends to achieve a common goal. The typical toddler is competitive and prefers to suit herself. She probably won’t be fully cooperative until she’s 3 or 4.
Finally, there’s empathy. This is your toddler’s ability to understand and share the feelings of another child. Most of the time, young children are unable to do this and can only think of their own desires. However, the more you let your toddler play and explore her feelings as she
does, the more she’ll get to grips with it all.

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Try this… 

Teach your toddler how to use body language positively in order to build her friendships. Simple actions, such as making eye contact, smiling, keeping her head up and her shoulders back will make a huge difference to other children’s reactions to her.

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