I wanted to wrap up our discussion on Social-Emotional development today. We are talking about children 2-3 years of age. I’m going to mostly be talking about their social development, because at this age they are learning a lot of their fundamental skills for social interaction.
Adult Interaction: Seeing how your little one acts with you and other adults can help us key into their social development. At this age they should be able to differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar adults. Perhaps even greet familiar adults by saying hi, or running to them. They might show awareness of adults they don’t know, by being shy or more reserved towards them. I touched on temperament last week, and it will come out even more here. Some children are more friendly and will open up quickly to those they don’t know, and some will take a longer time or prefer not to open up to them until they have seen them a few times. It is really important to know your own child and how they interact. Don’t push them to hug or kiss a relative that they never see, this can be really damaging for children who have a personal bubble.
You will also see your little one asserting their independence. Hence the phrase terrible two’s. Even though those tantrums can really do a number on your patience and sometimes even household items (I know there are some throwers out there…), this is a developmental skill and one that should be seen often. These tantrums should mostly come from frustration, such as not being able to tell you what he wants or wanting to be independent. If you feel like your child’s tantrums are too frequent or more than a typical two year old, it would be good to look into it. I have heard it suggested that if they are consistently lasting longer than fifteen minutes, consult your pediatrician. I’ve worked with a lot of families that have a child with behavior concerns, and sometimes something else can be going on, such as a sensory issue or other delay.
Another common two year old attribute is boundary testing. This is very important for a child’s development, and goes over a lot smoother if you are consistent with your schedule and discipline. Children need structure and by them testing their boundaries and yours is how they ask for structure and expectations. The best way to avoid boundary testing is clearly stating your expectations before it becomes an issue. For example, if your little one really has a hard time in the grocery story, perhaps asking for too many sweets. The best way to deal with this is letting them know what you expect before they have already broken down about not getting all the king size Hershey bars. There are a lot of different ways to approach this, but the best is saying something similar to “you can pick one treat only,” prior to you leaving. Then in the moment, you can remind them that you both agreed to pick one treat. The reaction should be more mild if there is one at all. You can even praise your little one for listening and following through when they are content with one treat.
Peer Interactions: You should see a progression from early two to almost three in how your little one interactions with peers. For the most part your little one will parallel play, playing in the same room with a peer, but not necessarily together. As they get closer to three, they will start playing more with peers, at least interacting more, perhaps learning to take turns and being motivated by other peers for both good and bad behavior. During this age children should also differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar children.
Children learn a lot from their peers and it is so good for them to have exposure to lots of different children. Taking them to a park, or play date, or even story hour at the library can help your little one learn a lot. I know it can be difficult but try and take a step back when your little is playing with other children. They learn so much from these interactions, and when you try to manage their play, they aren’t gleaning the same experience. And I’m not saying to just stay out of it altogether, making sure your child is safe is your number one priority. But letting them assert themselves naturally can really build their self confidence.
A lot of parents I’ve worked with are concerned about school readiness, and the transition from home to classroom. In my opinion the best thing you can do for your child is encourage social development. If your child feels confident knowing that if you drop him off and say you will come back and you do, they are more like to feel calm when dropped off for preschool or kindergarten. Your child will be very successful if they can learn to follow adult given directions, and to appropriately interact with peers. These first three years really help set the foundation for a well adjusted kindergartener. If your little one is a little more timid, showing them that they can do it on their own, while you are there can give them the confidence to do it on their own when you aren’t there.