Every mom wants her kid to have a group of pals, but let’s face it — tots aren't exactly known for their social prowess. Their still-developing language skills make it hard to strike up a conversation … even with someone their own size. Plus, until age two kids are still in the parallel play mode, which means they play alongside each other without interacting. Not exactly the best way to make friends.
How can you help? Since making small talk in the sandbox isn't likely to happen without some parental prodding, you’ll have to guide your tot along the path to friendship instead. Here are five easy steps to help your toddler make friends:
Start slow. Too many children at a time can overwhelm even the biggest social butterfly, so set up playdates with just one other pal at a time. By exposing your tot to other kids gradually, you’re slowly easing him into the energy and commotion that playdates can bring, instead of bombarding him with a barrage of playmates and the hullabaloo (read: chaos) that comes with them. Be sure to keep the social event to an hour or two at most — kids this age tire easily — and schedule it at the time of day when your child is generally in a good mood and his tummy is full (morning is often ideal).
Look high and low. Find potential buddies by checking out those already on your radar (your child may warm up more quickly if he has some familiarity with the playmate). Kids in your apartment building or on your block, or those you see regularly in the park are all good bets. If you attend a Mommy and Me class or a toddler music group, see if there’s a potential pal your little one seems to gravitate to. Also, think about a buddy who shares your child’s interests, whether it’s trucks and painting or princesses and Play-Doh.
Get involved. Since most toddlers aren't ready to navigate a playdate on their own, you’ll need to plop down on the floor with the other parent and make it a foursome. Chat up the other mom so your little one will hear (and possibly imitate) your friendly tone. He’ll also benefit by seeing you model good playdate behavior — asking nicely for a toy, for instance, or sharing a snack. And be ready to step in should a brawl suddenly break out.
Keep it fair. Toddlers won’t naturally loan their toys, even to fellow truck aficionados, so head off squabbles by providing multiple vehicles, pink costumes, and enough paint colors and paper to go around. Or hit the playground where numerous options abound: the slide, swings, climbing gym, and merry-go-round. Large-scale toys are naturally appealing to active toddlers, and they’ll end up happily running around to each apparatus rather than tussling over a single blue block.
Scale back expectations. Pushing the social agenda onto an unwilling participant can make a tot socially reluctant. So skip the pressure and cut the playdate short if it doesn't seem to be working out. Remember — you can’t force a friendship. The most you can do is plant the seed and then sit back and let it blossom. In time your toddler will figure out that child’s play is even more fun when it’s played with a pal.