Healthy socialization isn’t just a developmental milestone to maintain. Instead, it’s a much more complex series of steps that help your child to navigate the world around her. From patiently waiting her turn in line for the preschool water fountain to playing a game of tag without tackling the other kids, there are many ways to tell if your little one knows her social do’s and don’t’s.
You might not think of your baby as a social creature, but a healthy sense of socialization in an infant can breed a foundation for future learning. Unlike older kids who show obvious signs of social development such as playing well with other kids, your baby’s skills in this area are of a slightly different nature. Don’t expect that your 11-month old will want to hang with the neighbor kid sharing her favorite stuffed animals. Instead, look at the ways that your infant engages in beginning play and reacts to and communicates with you and others around her. For example, when you play pat-a-cake, she should engage her focus on you and smile in response to your friendly face.
During the second year of life, you’ll see a jump in your child’s social skills. Unlike infants, young toddlers are developing a budding sense of awareness that includes both themselves and others. While toddlers between 12 and 24 months still aren’t ready to take on full-time cooperative play, healthy socialization during this period does include interest in what other kids are doing and the ability to play near them. You can expect that your young toddler will have some self-struggles with concepts such as empathy (after all, this is a very new skill for your little one), but she should show signs that she is beginning to get the hang of this new type of play. (You probably know adults who know have trouble with the concept of empathy.)
Just because there is a popular notion that toddler-time equals the terrible-twos doesn’t mean that you should lower your expectations for your little one’s social behaviors. Healthy socialization at this stage includes a growing ability to “play nice” with other kids, a developing sense of empathy or understanding, and a true interest in actually engaging in interactions with other toddlers. Most older toddlers still don’t have the total self-control to hold back from grabbing a toy from another child or whining when she has to wait her turn. That said, kids at this age can take a step back and understand when their actions hurt someone else and turn their behavior around.
The difference between a toddler’s and preschooler’s social skills often seems like black and white. While toddlers can play well next to other kids, preschoolers truly want to play with others and often engage in elaborate group play scenarios. Healthy social development at this stage includes the interest in playing with other children, the beginnings of true friendships (based on real interests such as a love for a favorite superhero), problem solving in collaboration with others and an actual sense of empathy.