How to support social development for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers

March 7, 2017 Published by


Social interaction is everywhere; being able to ask and answer questions in class, building friendships, or negotiating for the football at playtime.

It includes understanding the emotions and behaviour of others, being able to form healthy relationships and effective communication.

Before they reach school children will go through some huge changes in their social development. Babies are egocentric and this means they assume everyone has the same thoughts and feelings as themselves.

It’s a tough transition over the first few years to learn that they are not the centre of everything – which might explain why toddlers can appear so selfish!


Babies (from birth to one year)

Building relationships starts right at the beginning – your baby will recognise your smell, voice and face and feel safe around familiar people.

There is no such thing as too many cuddles, as physical contact will promote security and a sense of safety.

A few months down the line your baby will smile socially and love getting a reaction back, creating the foundation for communicating.

Interacting with your baby through games like peekaboo, or getting their attention with an interesting toy will support their social development.



Toddlers (one to two years)

If you have a toddler you may be familiar with the phrase, “Mine!”.

One to two year-olds are developing their understanding of ownership which is the reason everything seems to belong to them.

They are starting to learn about empathy, but this is still a little bit tangled – they will recognise that someone is upset, but will try to cheer them up with something that would comfort themselves (such as giving an adult their favourite toy).

Because empathy is still developing it can also be pretty wavering; one minute your toddler might be putting cream on their sibling’s sore finger, the next they’re hitting them because they took the toy they wanted.

Find out how animals can help young children develop empathy

Social skills take time to develop so it’s perfectly common for children to struggle with sharing at this stage.

It can also vary a lot between children, so you could easily have a very caring two-year old, or a four year-old who refuses to take turns on the tricycle. At this age children will often play on their own or next to one another (this is called parallel play and it’s both a normal and important step in your child’s development).

You are your toddler’s greatest role model so demonstrating good empathy and communication can encourage social development; for example, by listening when they talk to you.

Large toys like water/sand play tables or the play beach villa encourage little ones to play in parallel, which is a step towards playing together.



Pre-schoolers (two to four years)

At this stage children are starting to enjoy playing with others and will be learning to take turns and share – but they may still need frequent adult intervention to help them understand the importance of this.

Empathy is a learnt skill so it can help to gently explain to your child why it’s good to share, or why commenting on how big someone’s nose is while walking down the street might upset them.

Social interactions will help your child learn to take turns, share and communicate. Simple games, like the Petilou Forest Stacker Tower, are good for this, while other toys which encourage children’s social development through role play like this doctors sets are good for getting children to play imaginatively together.

Also, a secret space to play with friends will also get your little one playing with others by telling make believe stories.

Girls playing together in costumes

Photo credits

Sister Dance by Donnieray licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tags: , , ,

Categorised in: ,

This post was written by Anna Taylor

Write your comment...

« »

Recently Added