“Meena, a 25 year old mother to Gaurav (19 months old) was relaxing with a book , when she heard him scream on and on. She got up and started running towards the noise, where she found Gaurav hitting Shobha his 5 year old sister even as he was trying to snatch the soap bubble blower, she clutched in her raised hand. The latter was trying to stop him with no success. Upon asking, Meena found out that Gaurav wanted to have her new bubble blower which she had not even used once!
After a lot of effort, Meena managed to separate the two, and carried away a kicking and screaming Gaurav.”
Gaurav is a toddler who has not yet learned any social skills. With limited vocabulary and a desire to own the lovely bubble blower, he had just the option of trying physical power over his elder sister.
This brings us to the social development of toddlers which spans from around 15 to 18 months up to about 24 plus months. The process of social development is gradual and goes on for a few years.
Your toddler in this phase learns to relate with the positive and negative experiences he encounters around him. He watches and mimics behaviours from parents and family members about how to act and react in different situations, as he learns through imitation of modeled behaviours. His interactions are limited to the family, especially his parents, on whom he depends for everything in his life.
Learning social skills will make him confident as well as independent, and help him later in developing self control and self-awareness which will facilitate his social integration in school.
Experts opine that children with good parenting develop into secure and trusting adults. The opposite is true when parenting leaves much to be desired. Thus, parents have the responsibility of laying down a good foundation of healthy and secure adults, especially in their psycho-social development.
Dimensions covered in toddler’s social development – An overview.
Let us see what dimensions are covered in the toddler’s phase of social development and your role in the same.
a. Likes parallel play
Your toddler has just learned new motor skills which allow him to explore his play environment. He has yet to learn to be socially skillful with others.
What should you do?
Give opportunities to your toddler to play alongside other toddlers/ children. Just remember to provide multiple toys to avoid a melee for possession of coveted but scarce toys. Playing with other children will lay the foundation for learning to share and take turns maybe by following older children.
Playhouse experiences with other children, also helps your toddler in the same way.
b. needs positive feedback
Your toddler requires positive feedback and attention. He may usually get feedback from you when he does something wrong.
What should you do?
If you do not want him to use mischief for seeking your attention, praise him when he has done something positive .From time to time, cuddle him or kiss him to make him feel special, loved and secure.
c. desires independence in everything
Your toddler likes to explore the environment and have little adventures. But, due to lack of experience and overall skills, he is unable to function independently and gets into awkward situations, needing to be rescued from time to time. He needs supervision and protection as he is not yet ready to be independent.
What should you do?
You may want to give him opportunities to make independent decisions in his daily routine by making choices for things under his control.
Allow him to choose his clothes from the ones you have short listed (he may get frustrated in making choices from a large pile of clothes). He can choose his favorite cup, chair or dinner plate, and so on.
d. imitates behaviour of others
Your toddler models your behaviours and those of significant others in your family. It is important to offer him good behaviours to model.
What can you do?
Apart from modeling good behaviour of actions and reactions in various situations, you can also do the following.
- while reading him stories you can focus on social messages e.g.talk about how the characters shared their toys and did not fight over them, or, how the little girl verbalized her anger instead of hitting her friend who had snatched away her ice cream cone.
Puppets, which are universally liked by children, may also be used to promote these social messages.
- You can also use dinner time with the family to help the toddler observe and copy good table manners e.g. ways to request to pass on the food, how to chew the food, and so on.
If adults are habituated in displaying good behaviour , your toddler will learn them by himself.
e. shows common inappropriate behaviours
Your toddler has yet to learn the social skills to know what he can do and what he cannot. In this context, generally all toddlers exhibit the inappropriate behaviours in this phase of development. If these behaviours spill into the next stage of development, it is time to seek help from experts to help you deal with a problem.
The inappropriate behaviours are:
- snatching and grabbing
The toddler simply grabs from others what he wants. He does not know what the other person will feel, nor is he selfish himself.
- Biting, fighting and hitting
Due to lack of language skills your toddler has not learned the appropriate ways to express his feelings; therefore he will use the non verbal route when upset, angry or frustrated. He may hit out at anyone in sight even if his offender is out of sight.
What can you do?
Teach your toddler to verbalize how he is feeling so that he becomes less likely to respond physically to rage and frustration.
Help him to label his feelings by verbalizing for him, e.g. what and why he is feeling, when he cries because of a broke n toy. She also tells him she understands why he is crying.
Use stories and puppets to demonstrate how characters have verbalized their negative feelings instead of using physical force.