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Your child's social development 2-3 years

2 to 3 Years
Join in with your child’s pretend play, and encourage turn taking, sharing and cooperation along the way

Your toddler at a glance

Independence is still high on the agenda, and your toddler is constantly learning by observing everything that is going on around him. During this stage you are likely to see your child:
  • Furthering her independent explorations and still showing that her view of the world is self-centred
  • Asking for food she wants, and wants attention or needs met immediately
  • Enjoying singing and telling stories with you
  • Engaging in group activities such as singing, clapping, dancing
  • Showing an interest in other children and what they are doing, but still finding it difficult to share (own toys in particular)
  • Enjoying pretend play, e.g. play house or dressing up
  • Engaging in parallel play with other children
  • Showing the beginnings of playing directly with other children (towards third birthday)

Your toddler's story

Your child is growing even more independent during this stage, and is starting to experience himself as more in control of what he is able to do. He is constantly exploring and wants to be able to do things, and do them ‘now’. Self-control is still a challenge at this age, and your child is not yet able to empathise, i.e. putting himself in someone else’s shoes and understanding what they are experiencing or feeling. He can get frustrated and stubborn (sometimes leading to tantrums) if he can’t do something himself, or if he is told he has to wait.

Boy looking through binocularsPlay continues to be crucial to social development. Your toddler is constantly learning by observing and listening to what is going on around her, and play allows her to try out new skills and imitate behaviours. Pretend play increases further during this stage, and you will probably see her using dolls or other toys to play out various scenes and sorting out emotional issues.

When your child is with other children, he will still be more likely to engage in 'parallel play'. This means he is enjoying watching and playing near other children, but actual interactions (playing directly together) tend to be few. Parallel play provides important learning and stimulation, though, and lays an important foundation for later on when your child is building his cooperation skills. As he gets closer to 3 years of age, you may see the beginnings of joining in with other children more.

What you can do to support and encourage your toddler's development

Recognising the importance that play has for your toddler’s emerging social skills; encourage him to engage in pretend play. Let him explore everyday situations through this form of play, and make sure you respond and play along when he e.g. feeds you the ‘cake’ he just made or the ‘biscuit’ he found in his pocket. These are also great situations to practice turn taking, cooperation and sharing. These skills won’t always come easy at this age, but it’s great to provide the foundation for learning these concepts early on.

Happy girlYour toddler’s view of the world is still mainly self-centred, and with self-control still under development, she needs your patience, understanding and guidance. She often wants her needs met immediately, and making her own decisions becomes very important to her. Learning to wait for things is not easy, but is important for self-control and also for starting to understand that others around her have their own needs, just like she has. You can help her practice e.g. by starting with short waiting times (success more likely), and engage in distraction activities with her. When she’s with other children, even if mostly engaging in parallel play, you can help your toddler practice waiting, sharing and turn-taking. Remember that it is normal to see children this age grab each other’s toys and sometimes even push or hit if they are frustrated. As they have yet to develop more sophisticated social skills and the ability to control impulsive behavior, this all contributes to their learning process.

If you are facing struggles in various situations and your child is unwilling to cooperate, present him with options rather than just one way (your way). For example, let him choose if he wants to put the green jumper on or the red one. And for going outside, ask him what he will need to wear and then provide e.g. the shoe and jacket options. When it comes to things like going to bed, you probably feel there is no choice, so you could say it’s time for bed, but that he can choose e.g. a toy to bring to the bedroom.

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