Encouraging Social Development in Young Children
There is much that parents can do to promote the social development of their children. Providing a variety of interesting materials and hosting playdates for your child with peers is important in facilitating social interaction.
Infants. Children as young as 3-5 months old smile and demonstrate interests in familiar people, often reaching for them. At this age, infants need a more competent peer to initiate social games and will laugh during physical play. As children get a little older, they prefer to be with people and enjoy simple, predictable games, such as peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake. They begin to perform for social attention around 9 months of age. Around a year old, infants will respond differentially to young children and will begin to imitate social games.
Ones. After their first birthday, older infants begin to be comfortable exploring their environment independently and vary their play with toys (e.g., rocking a baby, kissing a baby). Older infants will begin to approach and play near other children. At this age, you may also see your child begin to assert his independence, but he is now capable of following simple directions, such as picking up toys upon request.
Twos. As children get older, they begin to independently select toys and engage in play; it is important to have a variety of interesting materials to hold their attention. Twos can also engage in simple, dramatic play schemes, such as pretending to be asleep or talk on the phone. Although they are interested in other children, they prefer to play near, but not yet with other children. As they approach their third birthday, children begin to identify themselves in the mirror, know their gender, and play with other children. Twos play more independently from adults and are beginning to share. However, this has to be mediated by an adult.
Threes. By three years of age, children begin to play simple games with other children, such as "Simon Says" or "Ring-around-the-Rosy," but need adult supervision. Children will also play simple, pretend games where they take on different roles, like playing house. Threes can follow simple directions to perform chores, such as putting items away, and will often ask to help with tasks. They are developing preferences and prefer choices. Threes can also identify their own belongings and answer questions about their activities ("what did you do at school today?").
Fours. By four, children are developing empathy and can recognize when another child or animal is hurt. Their dramatic play schemes are more developed, and they are able to perform a variety of steps in a play scheme, such as cooking dinner, even in the absence of props. Fours often play in a small group of children and, by 4.5 years, are beginning to share. Fours are beginning to develop a sense of humor and differentiate between fantasy and reality. Young fours are able to complete short-term tasks, like completing a puzzle or reading a book, while older fours can complete longer-term projects.
In order to have a successful playdate, remember to consider your child's schedule and plan for the playdate when he is well rested and fed. Playdates should be for a short duration, depending on your child's age, and be supervised by adults. Keep the above guidelines in mind when considering playdate activities.
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