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play21Children in the early years are not sure how to regulate themselves and they may need a parent available for emotional support in order for a child to learn empathy, boundaries and appropriate social interactions. The way you treat your family and friends is what your child will imitate, not what you tell your child to say and do.  Setting a good example is the key.  Here is what to expect when your child is beginning to play as to your child’s social interactions.

What is Solitary or Onlooker Play?

It is the first stage of play and may be called self-play (solitary or onlooker play). It is the general rule for children from birth to approximately the two-year age range.  They like to play near other children but not always with them (parallel play).  Baby will make sounds or talk to himself or to his toys as he/she plays.  There is very little give and take in the social interaction with his/her peers.  In the beginning he/she may not even pay attention to other children playing in the same room.  Watching, studying and imitating the play of others will be the norm.

What toys or activities are best for this age when playing in a group?

  • Whether your child is a few months old or two years, blowing soap bubbles can be a fun activity.  It is inexpensive and great for a group activity because children can take turns popping the bubbles.
  • Simple musical instruments such as drums, maracas, bells and tambourines can be played to simple songs and the children can take turns with the different instruments.
  • Throwing bean bags at a board, rolling balls back and forth, and playing with dress up clothes allows children to play independently or watch each other at play.
  • When all else fails, playing peek-a-boo, painting or coloring, making mud pies in the sand box or reading a good book with mom or dad will make most children happy.

What can I do to make play time less traumatic with siblings or other playmates in this age range?

    • It is best to have two of the same toy for less conflict for those children that don’t understand how to share.
    • Using an egg timer with a bell can be used if there is only one toy and the children need to share.
    • Blocks and Lego can encourage children to build their own creations and it also offers the advantage of watching each other play.
    • Going outside and letting kids blow off some steam by riding age appropriate toys or going to the playground and swinging will work most of the time.

Will I be able to teach my child to share at this stage?

Most children don’t have the concept of sharing under the age of two years unless they have been raised in a family with younger siblings.  A child’s personality will also affect how he or she interacts with his or her peers.  Some children are more passive and may cry more easily when toys are taken away from them by their playmates.  Parents will need to monitor play activities at this age.

  • Turn taking activities such as playing ball, imitating finger plays and playing with hand puppets introduces the idea of interacting with peers.
  • Sharing then can be cued with the expression Your turn, My turn for the child to begin to understand that he will be able to get the toy again and it won’t be permanently removed.

Children develop at different rates and a child’s stage of play may vary.  A child’s temperament, play experience and opportunity to socialize is individualistic.  Provide parent monitored play dates to increase social interaction and be ready to handle pushing, biting and kicking behavior if there is a conflict.  Get on your hands and knees and present yourself as a great role model for a playmate.  What a great excuse to be a child again.