Social Interactions in Toddlers

By Teacher Shannon

Starting from birth, social interaction is a large part of a child’s life. Babies are never left alone or unsupervised. Young children need the comfort of a familiar face nearby if not right next to them. This is an important part of the development of children to note as children begin to start the separation process. Having a friendly and recognizable face nearby will allow the child to feel comfortable and explore the surrounding environment stress free. The first time a child comes to school is a huge step in their development that allows them to create more familiar faces. Teaching staff and classmate’s faces will soon start to bring comfort to the child. Soon the child will even be calling everybody by their name. 

Once students are comfortable with the people around them and they start to explore and play with the toys, there comes the interactions with their peers. Before starting school children have limited interactions with students their own age and need direction and language to handle situations such as sharing and taking turns. Some of the important goals for toddlers when it comes to their social development include…

  • Able to separate from the caregiver with the necessary support and comfort
  • Happily playing on their own
  • Cooperates with friends and teachers 
  • Begins playing with friends during free play 
  • Form new bonds and attachments to friends and teachers in the classroom. 
  • Able to play within a group or friends. 
  • Approach a friend or teacher to play with them. 
  • Begins to become aware of other children and teachers feelings.
  • Developing the concept of sharing and taking turns. 

So as an adult what can we do to help facilitate these social interactions? Our job as adults in these social situations is to make sure children feel comfortable and to lead by example. While children are still developing their language skills and understanding of spoken language one way to lead by example is to set up a social interaction between two children. Find toys that they both seem to be interested in. For example, two children who both like to play with the dinosaurs, start to demonstrate how their dinosaurs can start to talk to each other. By showing them first how to play and interact together will give them examples and situations to copy. Young children often observe and copy adults. 

You can also start to give them vocabulary around social play simply by asking questions. As students at this age are still developing the ability to communicate using their language it is helpful as an adult to come in and give some direction towards their play. Ask questions such as “What are you doing?” “What is your friend doing?” “Can you make me one?” “Can I play too?” This way the children start to connect their actions to words which will help develop their language skills as well as their ability to communicate in social situations further giving them the opportunity to start to think for themselves and develop their own creativity and imagination with their peers. 

As with all areas of development it is important to have patience and not to force any child into a situation they are not comfortable with. Encourage but do not push. Give examples but do not force. Facilitate opportunities such as play dates and give students time to build social skills with one another.