Your toddler is quietly stacking blocks when suddenly he walks over and offers you a sip of his juice. You’re doing something right, Mommy–this gesture, while seemingly small, shows your tot is on track in his social and emotional development. Making friends, expressing anger in a healthy way, taking care of someone: these are all signs of healthy development in children, according to Zero to Three. Help your little one flourish socially and emotionally with activities geared toward your toddler.
Play with Peers
While play at this age sometimes looks like just plain chaos, kiddos are actually in the midst of learning a crucial, life-long skill: interacting successfully with others. Organize simple games to get your tot to play cooperatively. While singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” have your toddler sit across from her friend, hold hands, and rock back and forth. For playdates with more tots, have the kids hold onto each other at the waist and pretend to be a train and “choo-choo” around the room.
While your little imitator bakes an imaginary cake or pretends her rabbit is a baby, amazing things are happening. She is acting out thoughts and feelings she doesn’t know how to put into words, which is preparing her to play and interact with others. Best Beginnings suggests joining your tot at her level. If she’s stirring in a bowl, for example, do the same. Keep the play going, if she seems interested. Show her how to feed her dolls and stuffed animals with a cup, or clean the dishes and put them away. Put her actions into words: “You’re giving your rabbit dinner. He’s very hungry.”
One fine day–after many more meltdowns over sharing his fave dump truck–your toddler will indeed take turns, resolve conflicts and experience the wonders of true friendship. Start emphasizing the importance of relationships now by making a “friend book” for your tot. Take pics of all the little people in your toddler’s life and glue them to the top of each page of the book. Include details below like the friend’s favorite toy, book, food, game or stuffed animal. Read the book with your tot–he’ll be fascinated by this new window into his growing friendships.
Talking and Reading
Your little guy is having another meltdown, and you’re tempted to tell him to “use his words” instead of throwing himself on the ground. But in the heat of the moment, it can be tough for him to know what he wants and how he’s feeling. You can help by putting your tot’s feeling into words. “When your brother took your paintbrush, you felt really angry.” Share your feelings, too: “I am so frustrated that I can’t find my keys.” Reading about feelings is a great way to explore them, too: check out “My Many-Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss, “Lots of Feelings” by Shelly Rotner, and “The Feelings Book” by Todd Parr.