One of the many challenges of toddlerhood is the idea of socialising your toddler and getting them used to the company of others.

Toddlers tend to be quite egocentric; their favourite words are usually ‘No’ and ‘Mine’ and it’s all about them! Sharing and waiting are foreign concepts to most toddlers. This is one of the few reasons why it may be difficult at the beginning to socialise your toddler. In order for your toddler to move on, they must learn a few social skills.

There are a number of activities you can do with your toddler to help them make friends and prepare them for being around lots of children before playschool.

1. Be prepared

Know that socialising your toddler won’t happen overnight, and that there will be a number of bumps along the road. Don’t panic if your toddler refuses to acknowledge other toddlers, or worse, transforms into a mini Dracula and starts biting his playmates. This is all normal! So be prepared to deal with a few tears along the way and don’t be disheartened if some of your friend’s toddlers are adapting to social environments faster than yours, everyone develops at a different pace.

2. Baby Steps

Initially, setting up a one-on-one play date with another toddler is best.

Introducing your toddler to others is a new experience for them. It is best to take things slowly to help them better adapt to social situations.  Initially, setting up a one-on-one play date with another toddler is best. Expect to see little interaction between them, as it is likely they will initiate ‘parallel playing’. This means they play next to one another rather than together. Keep the session short, as you do not want them to grow tired or irritated of each other.  As your toddler becomes more used to these playdates, they will begin to engage in ‘associative play’. This is where they will interact a little bit more with their playmate, which means your toddler may have gained a loose understanding of social skills.

A multi-ethnic group of toddlers are sitting on the floor and are playing together with wood blocks while on a play date.

It is important to start with the one-on-one playdates before testing the waters with group play time, but once you feel like your toddler is ready to mingle, there are plenty of places you can bring him to meet new toddlers like parks, story time at a local library, swimming classes, tumbling classes or even a crèche.

3. Get involved

Toddlers tend to imitate people in their surroundings, you being one of them. If they see how you interact with others, they will follow suit. So try to be quite vocal when you meet people around them, so they can gauge the norm when it comes to greeting people. Try not to tell them exactly what to say when you meet others, eg. ‘say hello to Mary’, but instead tell them to ‘greet Mary.’ By leaving the instruction slightly open to their own interpretation, they will slowly learn how to interact with others without you being there.

During this process, there will come a time where you will have to intervene. This is very important, as it will teach your toddler the difference between right and wrong when it comes to social behaviour. For instance, if your toddler is hyper-possessive over their toys, they may react badly when a playmate tries to take one of them. Biting, shoving and hair pulling are common responses to this. It is crucial for you to intervene and explain that sharing is important and being physical is wrong. Be direct; do not insinuate they did something wrong by asking ‘why did you do that’, tell the immediately ‘you are being sent to your room for hitting.’ They will then learn quickly that acting out physically is wrong.

Socialising your toddler is a challenging task, with many ups and downs, or in their case bite marks and tears. However, as they become accustomed to the presence of other toddlers, and learn to be patient and share, they will begin to enjoy being surrounded by playmates.