Social / Emotional Milestone

Engaging With Peers

What’s more satisfying than sitting back on a park bench and being able to relax because your child is playing with another kid? Nothing, that’s what. Welcome to the age of playing—and arguing—with others.

Up until now, your kid has probably done mostly “parallel” play with peers. That’s the thing where they play in the general vicinity of other kids, but don’t really actively engage with others. You still have to do a lot of work. Now, your child is starting to play together with peers—and that’s when social dynamics start to get interesting. They’re navigating conflict, recognizing similarities and differences, and starting to practice empathy. That’s all great stuff. Once they start their school journey, they’ll have to manage friendships and social interactions much more independently. So now is a great time to help them build the skills they need to thrive and grow as a friend and learner in school.

Here’s what you can do to help them build these important skills:

1

Let them problem-solve when they can. They’re naturally going to look to you to help them solve problems as they come up: So-and-so won’t share the toy, or knocked my tower over, or won’t play by my rules. Look for opportunities to get out of their way and let them do the work of resolving the issue.

2

Encourage them to ask questions. Unlike at home, at school they may have to get an adult’s attention if they have a problem they can’t solve on their own, or they need help navigating a peer interaction. If you have a child who might struggle to speak up, try some role-playing at home to practice how they can ask for help when they need it.

3

Practice their strong voice. Again, in school, your child is likely to have to assert their own preferences—you won’t be there to do it for them! When you’re playing at home or at the park, look for opportunities to let them speak up for themselves. That might mean encouraging them to ask another child if they can join in a game, or telling a peer when they don’t like something instead of asking you to do it for them.