One of the joys of parenting is watching your children grow from helpless infants to free-thinking humans. Toddlers are just beginning to explore the world around them, keeping you forever entertained in the process. During this special phase of life, your children are learning about the world and forming their first connections to other human beings.
Some people are more social than others. It’s just a fact of life. There’s a difference between a healthy amount of introversion and a struggle with social interaction, however. All parents can encourage positive social traits in their children by teaching good habits from a young age. As your kids develop their first friendships, your guidance can provide a foundation for healthy boundaries for the rest of their lives.
It’s easy to set up a playdate, throw together a backpack diaper bag of toys, and head to the park, but what happens if your child becomes shy or antisocial upon arrival?
1. Keep Things Simple
It’s best to start with one or two other children and work up to larger groups. A toddler’s world is small, and a few new friends will provide plenty of social stimulation. The goal is to begin teaching kids about ongoing friendships and how trust is formed, and it’s better for them to work on that with a few other kids than to try and introduce dozens right away. Lessons in trust and sharing go hand in hand, so this is also a good opportunity to begin teaching the joy of giving.
2. Set a Time Limit
Hour-long playdates are great for busy working moms, and they’re also ideal for toddlers. An hour is enough time for two kids to test the waters and play together for a bit. It’s not enough time to get cranky and fed up with the situation. If you want your child to form a positive association with socializing, quit while you’re ahead. The next time you bring up a playdate, they’ll have something to get excited about.
3. Allow Boundaries with Personal Toys
Another important lesson is that we share some things, but not others. If your child has a beloved personal item, like a blanket or a doll, it’s okay for them to prefer that item to be off-limits to others. Don’t pressure your kids to share everything. Instead, discuss the items that can be shared and how much fun it will be to do so.
4. Choose Artistic Group Activities
Finger painting, building blocks and other creative activities allow children to be together while still having their own space. There’s no competition over a certain toy, giving kids the comfort and space to express themselves.
5. Teach Healthy Emotional Boundaries
Boundaries are about more than just what we’re comfortable with. They’re our entire social construct, from how well we listen to how comfortable we are mistreating others. If your child is having a temper issue, show empathy and help them find a solution using problem solving rather than scolding them for misbehavior. Studies have shown this helps kids develop more emotional self-control.
6. Show Conversation Skills
A good conversationalist understands the art of active listening. To be active while listening to another person speak is to be engaged using body language, mental attention, and silence all at once. Things like the proper use of eye contact and gestures can be taught from early on in life. Make sure you’re an excellent example of conversation skills, and then your toddler will be more receptive when you teach them how to listen and use eye contact when conversing with others.
Amid all this teaching, it’s important to remember to let kids be as free as possible. Without the freedom to explore and make mistakes, they won’t develop a connection to themselves, which is just as important as the connection to other people. When they know themselves better, making friends will become even easier, and you will have set them up for success in their lives.