Your child’s social development 1-2 years
Encourage your child’s developing independence whilst remaining sensitive to his need for reassurance and help to manage emotions
Your child at a glance
Your toddler loves the sense of freedom he is gaining through increased ability and mobility, and his need for independence mirrors this. During this stage, you are likely to see your child:
- Imitating adult behaviours when playing, and understanding and acting on simple instructions
- Copying actions and starting to be helpful, e.g. enjoying putting things away after playing
- Starting to distinguish between different people she knows and being social with them (e.g. playing and talking)
- Preferring to have familiar adults nearby, and perhaps acting shy around strangers
- Starting to recognise himself in the mirror and in photos
- Enjoying playing by herself at times, and initiating what she wants to play with
- Beginning to show independence; wanting to do things herself or refusing to cooperate (sometimes resulting in tantrums)
- Starting to understand the concept of ‘mine’ and may find sharing difficult
Your child's story
Your child is starting to take on a more active social role, and although he can play by himself for short periods, he will enjoy talking to you and imitating you by helping you with various household tasks. He will enjoy adult attention, and increasingly talks to and plays with people other than just those closest to him. He is starting to learn self control and will increasingly be expressing a wider range of emotions. He is learning from you how to relate to others and how to behave and react in different situations. Although he is becoming more sociable with different people, he can still be wary or even fearful of strangers.
During this stage you will also notice that your child is becoming more interested in other children, and may particularly enjoy the company of kids of similar age or older. He is taking a keener interest in their activities, and may imitate their actions, words and sounds. It is worth noting, though, that at this age your child is more likely to engage in parallel play than playing with other children, and he may find it difficult to share, in particular his own toys.
You have already seen your child's fascination with mirrors from an early age, but during this stage, usually by around 18 months, he will be able to understand that it is his own mirror image. He will also enjoy pointing out members of the family and others he knows well, and point to himself and others he knows in photographs.
Your child is starting to understand about 'you', 'me' and 'mine', in other words that she is a separate individual. This is combined with the self-centred focus of young children, and can result in periods of defiant behaviour or resisting doing what is asked of her. This often comes more to the fore as she is getting closer to her second birthday. What you see is her attempt at asserting her independence, expressing herself and exploring this new sense of having more control. Another element is that, although she is beginning to grasp that there is a 'you' and a 'me', she is too young to understand that others are individuals with their own needs and wishes, just like her. You may start to see some temper tantrums during this stage.
Your toddler will be taking his first steps this year, which adds to his sense of independence and curiosity about the world. Although he is taking his independence seriously, he will feel safer exploring and moving around if he knows that you are nearby. This means he can go to you when he suddenly feels insecure or wants you to be part of something he discovered. It is important to him that you are there to support both his need for closeness and his need to explore independently, remaining a flexible "safe base” for him. Some children also develop an attachment to a favourite cuddly toy or blanket around this time (or even earlier). This can help them deal with their increasing independence, which can be quite scary, by providing a constant sense of security and familiarity. It can also help them when they go through phases of separation anxiety, during the day and particularly at bedtime.
What you can do to support and encourage your child's development
As your child is finding her way in social relations, she needs your continued guidance in learning self control. This is an important skill for cooperation, and dealing effectively with frustrations and other emotions.
It can be difficult for your toddler in the midst of trying out his independence and expressing his own will. He wants to assert himself, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to say 'no' – to anything at any time. He may often become frustrated as he wants to be able to do so many things but is not always able to. Your toddler relies on you to be there to offer support and comfort, but also to provide the routines that he has come to get used to. He feels a sense of security within a predictable environment.
You can support and encourage your child's need for independence by allowing her to make some decisions. She will feel a sense of control, e.g. when being able to decide what to read, what to play, and (given options from you) what to wear and eat. When you start to see some temper tantrums, your child will need you to provide calm and support, and you can start helping her understand and learn about emotions. This will support her process of learning to manage her feelings.
Be ready to encourage your toddler's curiosity and independence in exploring, as well as to embrace him when he needs your reassurance. Also, if your child develops a strong attachment to a soft toy, remember that this provides a feeling of security for him. You can talk about this object with the same fondness as he is feeling towards it, and use it to help him calm down when upset or if trouble getting to sleep without you.
Help your child to learn and imitate new skills and behaviours. Play is children's way of discovering their surroundings, making connections, and learning how things work together. Repetition is important for learning new skills, and you may see him doing things like repeatedly putting something in a box and emptying it out again.
Although becoming more interested in other children, your toddler is likely to keep doing her own thing, playing alongside other children (parallel play). It is good to teach your child about, and encourage, sharing, but don't expect it to always happen very easily. Sharing is a social skill that can be seen sometimes from age 3, but is not fully established until around age 7 or 8.
In terms of toys and activities, it can be useful to think about what abilities your toddler has acquired or is practising. Toys that can be pushed or pulled are entertaining and useful for skill development as his walking is improving. She will also enjoy stacking blocks, building, and taking apart and putting back together again (fine motor skills). Reading is always a lovely activity for you to engage in together, and helps language skills as well. During this stage it's great to let her choose a book, and you will notice that she now has favourite books and characters, and remembers what happens in the stories.