During the toddler years, typically between the ages of 1 and 3, children are learning a lot of information, primarily through their play. Toddlers are developing in various areas, including emotionally and socially. Parents can help encourage their toddler's emotional and social growth through organised activities that help them learn to operate independently, as well as with others.
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Play dates allow you to promote social interaction in your toddler. While most toddlers play independently together -- playing next to each other, rather than with each other -- play dates do help the toddler learn to be social and care about others' feelings. Even though he is not playing the same thing, a toddler is aware of the presence of others and may interact some. Bringing toddlers together also creates learning experiences, such as sharing and caring about others. For instance, when your toddler takes a toy away from another child, you have the opportunity to teach the child it is wrong to take something from someone else without asking and teach your child to share with others. Children do not have to be in the same age range for play dates.
Many parents automatically use games of affection with their children. For instance, you may shower your child with kisses all over her body while naming her body parts. This not only teaches her the names of body parts, it also shows her how to be affectionate toward others. Even simple hugs and cuddling can enhance your child's emotional development. You may also play a game with your toddler in which you exhibit facial expressions that match a certain emotion, such as happy, sad and angry. Encourage your toddler to repeat the facial expression and explain how you feel with each emotion.
While it is important for a toddler to interact with his peers, it is also important for him to interact with adults. Take time out of your day to sit down on the floor and play with your child. It lets him know that he is important to you and shows him through example how to interact with others. A toddler is becoming more able to participate in independent play, but it is also important to encourage him to work with others. Just being silly together also offers interaction capable of enhancing social and emotional development.
Talk About Feelings
Toddlers experience a wide range of feelings, most of which they do not know how to effectively portray. This often results in tantrums from your toddler. You can help your toddler learn how to recognise her emotions and properly deal with the emotions. Each time your child experiences an evident emotion, such as excitement, anger, fear or sadness, tell your child what emotion she is feeling and validate that feeling. For instance, if she is angry that an activity has ended, tell him, "I know you are angry because you can't play right now, but it is time to go home to find daddy again. Won't that be fun?" This tells her you are aware he is angry and it offers a solution.
Toddlers have a vivid imagination and often learn through repetition. They watch what parents and other adults do and try to emulate that. Provide your toddler with activities and toys that encourage this copycat behaviour. Toys, such as pretend telephones, computers and cooking utensils allow your toddler to watch the things you do on a daily basis and copy those activities. Playing these activities with your child can also teach how to interact with others, encouraging social and emotional development.
Even though it is important for toddlers to spend time with others, learning how to interact with others and to deal with their emotions, it is also important to encourage alone time. Create a special place where your toddler can go when he wants to be alone. Make sure the area is completely child-proofed and safe. Let your toddler know that it is OK to want to be alone sometimes and unless there is something pressing that needs to be done, allow him to come out on her own when he is ready.
Reading stories not only helps encourage reading when your child is older, it also can help with social and emotional development. Choose stories in which one or more characters feels a specific strong emotion and the story shows how to deal with that emotion. As you read, tie the story in to personal experiences your toddler has had. For instance, if the story is about a sad character, remind her of the time she was sad because she lost her blanket. Help her relate to the characters. Puppets are another good way to draw toddlers into the story.
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- "Parents"; Activities to Encourage Social & Emotional Development: 12-18 Months; Jamie Loehr, M.D., et al.
- "Parents"; How to Encourage Social & Emotional Development: 18-24 Months; Jamie Loehr, M.D., et al.
- Best Beginnings: Early Learning Activities for Toddlers
- PBS.org: Social and Emotional Development