According to the Center for Disease Control, while some children are just shy, some may suffer from social anxiety and avoid peer interactions altogether. Still, a total lack of interest in peer interactions may also be an early sign of autism in children involving language delays, impaired social functioning, and communication issues, and it should trigger some concern.
Learning how to form a successful peer relationship is a critical skill for kids, one that they’ll be using and refining all their lives.
But to some kids, cornerstones of childhood interactions like sharing a toy or engaging in make-believe might elude them, and they have a hard time fitting in. And while you can’t make friends for them, as a parent, you can help them practice and develop key social skills.
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Honing those baby social skills in early childhood is an important part of your baby’s development for several reasons, including:
1. Exposure to new situations
Babies enjoy the benefits of being around other babies because they learn to navigate new environments, play with different toys and even learn new social skills.
But most of them will play side by side before directly engaging with other children.
2. Language development
Research has shown that peer interaction in children encourages language development because it helps boost your baby’s verbal and cognitive skills.
Studies have also shown that language development increases with face-to-face interaction among babies of the same peer group.
3. Teaching versatility
Putting your little ones in different social situations teaches them to go with the flow, to adopt, and to trust others and their surroundings. They are like sponges just waiting to absorb new information and experiences.
4. Helps in building their self-esteem
Babies can benefit from being placed in social settings like daycare or play dates because they learn to trust the other children they spend time with and be comfortable in environments other than home.
Putting them in other social situations helps build their self-esteem immensely. They begin to take social cues and understand how the world around them works just by going through their everyday routine.
Helping your 2 year old connect with their peers
Many kids need specific guidance in how to connect with peers in positive ways and practice doing so. They don’t have to turn into life-of-the-party extroverts to fit in and interact with others because there’s certainly enough room in the world for the quieter style of interacting too.
You do, however, need to help them find ways of interacting that fit who they are and that lead to positive interactions.
1. Follow your child’s interest
Children make friends and learn to interact by doing fun things together.
An activity that your child enjoys can be a stepping stone to friendship. If they are focused on the fun activity at hand, they’ll have something to do and talk about with peers and are less likely to get scared about the possibility of being alone or getting rejected.
Some children just need help to get over the initial hump, and after that, they’re fine to interact with peers on their own. A favorite activity can act as this bridge.
2. Teach and practice social scripts
Much of what we say to others is routine, and letting your child learn simple social scripts through role-playing is essential.
For example, talking to people with a clear voice, greeting them with eye contact, and a friendly smile gets the friendship ball rolling.
3. Focus on one on one interactions
Some kids are shy and feel more comfortable with just one other person than they do in a crowd. Organizing and attending playdates can give your baby a chance to practice social skills and deepen friendships.
Having even only one friend whom they like and who likes them back helps those little ones feel happier and be less of a target for bullying. You can go over with your child gently how to behave on the playdate before the guests arrive if necessary.
4. Teach them how to respond when others are friendly
Studies show that kids who can respond warmly to other children-friendly gestures have an easier time socializing and interacting. Help them be on the lookout for kind behavior from other kids.
Teach them how to respond warmly as this could signify a beginning friendship.
5. Imagine others perspectives
It takes children a long time to learn to imagine how others might feel in a particular situation, and talking about feelings helps kids label and understand inner perspectives.
Mentally putting themselves in other people’s places can guide kids on how to get along. Looking outward while focussing on helping others feel comfortable can also help them break free from paralyzing self-focus.
6. Be patient
Express your faith in your child’s ability to grow and learn. With guidance and persistent efforts, they will begin to build connections with other kids.
When do babies usually start to actively engage with other children?
Most children under 3 engage in parallel play where they’ll play beside another child and might be interested in what they’re doing, but their play isn’t interactive per se as each of them is largely absorbed with their toys.
This still allows them to learn about social interactions because they’re watching and learning from their peers.
When should parents become concerned about children’s apparent lack of social skills?
By 14 months, children should engage in joint or shared attention, which includes more subtle social interaction cues like pointing or gazing at things their carers point at.
This is one way children engage with others and share experiences. If by 15 months your child isn’t showing joint interactions, ask your pediatrician for guidance.
As children move into preschool years, their social skills begin to expand. As parents, we should work simultaneously with them on eliminating disruptive behavior while encouraging prosocial behaviors and giving serious attention to creating early environments that reduce barriers to positive peer interactions. This will help avoid stigmatizing some children while ignoring others who might be in trouble and thereby having a reasonably good odds of success.