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3 Simple Ways to Help Your Toddler Make Her First Friends
  • When at a children's party, do you wonder if your toddler will get along well with the other little kids? Social skills and emotional intelligence are part of your child's development, and he'll take what he learns with him when he grows up and start to make friends. 

    “Emotional intelligence — defined as the ability to manage one's own emotions and relate well with others — will be a crucial factor throughout your child's life in his or her eventual academic and career success,” said Dr. Laura Markham, a psychologist and parenting expert, in an article on Aha! Parenting

    In fact, she adds, social development "is one of the most important skill sets your child will ever develop. It is infinitely more important to her future happiness than helping her develop her intellect."

    Just like with reading or math skills, socio-emotional skills can be nurtured early on. Here are a few tips how:

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    #1 Find kids that are your child’s age
    At age 2, your child will still prefer to play with you, but she will also begin to engage more with others — and that's where play dates come in. When it comes to small tots, expect to see more of “parallel play” or when kids play next to each other (they're not engaging each other in the same game or they are playing different toys). “There isn't a lot of interaction with kids at this stage, but it's still important to give your child time with other kids,” Heather Wittenberg, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in child development, told Parents

    At age 3, your child will engage in “associative play” or when kids still play next to each other, but this time they may be playing the same game. For example, at the playground, a group of tots is sitting together the sandbox making their own sandcastles. Because of this stage in her development, your child will start to look for other children and again, spending time with kids her age is important, said Dr. Wittenburg. 

    Bring your little one to the park or playground, accept invitations to children's parties, head to family-friendly attractions in the metro like a children’s museum, or invite a mom friend over who also has a tot. 

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    #2 Don't force your child to share but introduce taking turns
    Developmentally, your child is too young to fully understand the idea of sharing. “A toddler is very egocentric at this stage, and this is why he refuses to share his toys — his prized possessions,” explained JP Sordan, preschool teacher at Summit School in Taguig City, to Smart Parenting

    So, don’t force it. Instead, start introducing “taking turns” to your toddler. Explain that taking turns means everyone gets a chance to play with a toy. When teaching this to a toddler, Dr. Markham prefers that the little one gets to decide how long his turn will last rather than have an adult set a time limit. Practice this at home first with the two of you. 

    “If kids think adults will snatch a toy away once the adult's random idea of ‘long enough’ has passed, you're modeling grabbing, and the child usually becomes more possessive. If the child is free to use the toy for as long as he wants, he can fully enjoy it and then give it up with an open heart,” explained Dr. Markham.

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    #3 Label feelings and help your child handle his emotions
    The goal of teaching kids social skills is that they will be able to relate and get-along well with others later in life. Social intelligence, according to experts, is critical not only to career success but a person's happiness as well.

    Start developing your toddler's social and emotional intelligence by labeling his feelings and helping him deal with his emotions. When reading books, point out what the characters are feelings (“He’s sad” or “She’s angry!”). 

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    When he’s upset or frustrated, do the same. According to psychiatrist Dr. David Sack, in an article for the Huffington Post, you can say  something like, “You’re angry because you want wanted to play with that toy. I understand — it’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to throw things.” This way, he’ll know what he’s feeling is anger and, as an extension, be able to understand other children when they experience the emotion, too.

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