Originally published in our Laudable Life advice column in the Lakelands Leader

Image result for toddler social emotional developmentQ: Last week my daughter and I had the worst playdate ever! She’s two and a half and an only child. She likes other children but sometime she can get anxious or shy around them and sometimes she has trouble sharing. Probably all very normal for kids this age. We’re trying to help her by scheduling more play dates. They generally go all right, but this last time she didn’t want to share any of her toys and became rejecting and aggressive toward the other child. I was mortified! What can we do to try to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

A: Yes you’re right, everything you’re describing can be normal for kids this age. She is learning how to transition from parallel play to something more interactive and that’s a challenge. Sharing our things and the give-and-take required to play with another person is complex. It’s a big part of the learning that goes on during this period. She likely shows less of these problems when she’s at other children’s houses and her space is not being “invaded” and she is not expected to share her “treasures.”

Here are a few strategies that could help. First, hosting can be stressful for kids this age so try to keep the hour before they arrive as peaceful as possible. Second, prepare her for sharing during her hosted play dates by ask her before the guests arrive which toys she would prefer to tuck-away and not share with her guest. Next ask her which toys she would be comfortable sharing with her friend and have them invitingly scattered throughout playroom. Finally, Consider having a few structured activities that facilitate collaborative play, such as getting them started playing with Legos or blocks together, or play dough, or coloring. Once they are on a roll you can likely slip out of the activity and chat with the visiting parent.

Jessica Payne, LMSW, is our Early Childhood Play Therapist. She offers in-home play therapy for children 2-5 years old and in office therapy for children 6 and above. She suggestions a watch, wait, and wonder approach. A Watch, Wait and Wonder approach is a child led psychotherapeutic approach that specifically and directly uses the toddlers spontaneous activity in a free play format to enhance parental sensitivity and responsiveness. The child’s sense of self and self-efficacy, emotion regulation, and the child-parent attachment relationship is all enhanced by this child led approach to play. With Jessica’s coaching of the parent, this approach can be used by parents during play dates to assist their child in working through developmental and relational struggles with their peers.