Are you concerned about the way your toddler plays? They sit next to other kids with their blocks or trucks, but you don’t see them making much effort to interact. If so, you can relax.
This is a natural and important stage of development called parallel play.
In fact, it’s one of six stages of play that occur as a child moves from solitary play to cooperative play with coordinated activities, communication, and rules. Each child is different, but parallel play usually emerges when they’re about 2 or 3 years old.
Your child may look like they’re just having fun, but these activities also help them to learn and grow.
Learn more about the benefits of parallel play and how to encourage it.
- Understand the stages. As your child grows, they’ll be able to engage in a wider variety of play. Keep in mind that each stage is valuable, and your child will probably shift between them daily. It’s like wanting to bake a potato even if you know how to make paella.
- Stimulate curiosity. Your toddler will probably be more enthusiastic if they think it’s their idea. Instead of asking them to play with another child, use comments and questions that will make them want to engage.
- Demonstrate activities. Showing is usually more effective than telling. Start sculpting a Play-Doh figure and see if the kids join in.
- Take turns. Sharing can be a challenging concept for humans of all ages. Use parallel play to introduce the idea of taking turns. Try to make it into a game.
- Stick together. Children will move at their own pace. However, keeping them in the same room or general area creates more opportunities for parallel play.
- Schedule playdates. Most children are ready for playdates starting around their second birthday. Start out with just one guest and limit the time to about one or two hours.
- Practice at home. If your child needs to warm up to the possibility of playing with others, let them start with people they know. Sitting alongside a parent or sibling can help prepare them for friends their own age.
- Share daily activities. Do you wish you had more time to create enriching experiences for your child? Invite them along as you prepare dinner and buy gardening supplies. Ordinary tasks can be just as fun and fruitful as any expensive educational game.
- Talk more. Chatting with your child enhances their language and communication skills, especially during the first few years of life. Listen to their questions and keep up a conversation as you play ball or draw pictures.
- Limit TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that too much screen time can interfere with time to play, talk, and sleep. They recommend limiting screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs and watching them with your toddler so you can discuss the content.
- Move around. Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity a day for toddlers. They also need to avoid being sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, so take a break during long car trips.
- Inspire creativity. Playtime is also an occasion for you and your child to enjoy the arts. Exercise your imagination by using recycled materials from around the house for crafts. Entertain yourselves with word games while traveling or waiting at the doctor’s office.
- Be flexible. While there are serious benefits, remember to keep playtime fun. Let your child explore the world in their own way and talk with your pediatrician if you have any questions.
As your child develops, each stage of play helps them to build their mental, physical, and social skills. Provide them with the encouragement and support they need to grow up happy and healthy.