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Recommended reading Becoming more social Stages: 25 to 36 months

At this stage in a toddler’s life they are no longer considered a baby but neither are they a ‘big kid’. It can be a time of confusion and frustration for both them and their whānau, as toddlers may struggle with balancing their desire to be more independent and their need to be emotionally connected with the important people in their lives.

Parents will notice their toddler’s increasing interest in others around them as they become more outward looking. Although they enjoy the company of others, they will still be learning about social interactions. They will be copying and learning by imitating others. 

Learning social skills

They lack self-control at this age so their relationships, especially with other children, will still require some adult supervision. Their behaviour will sometimes be impulsive and unpredictable, and they may struggle with sharing or taking turns. They will therefore benefit greatly by having parents and whānau who are predictable (consistent) and responsive, with an understanding of their child’s developing emotional needs. They are learning and practising how to get on with others.

They need social interactions to test their ideas and learn about relationships but they may find this difficult. They need parents who can gently talk them through these tricky situations, acknowledging their feelings and using simple explanations to guide their behaviour. For example, ‘I know you’re very upset because Rosie’s playing with the doll you want to play with. Let’s go and choose another doll or a teddy. Maybe you and Rosie can have a tea party with your dolls, or shall we sit quietly for a while and do your favourite puzzle?’ This approach is a great support to them and helps them to develop social skills.

Managing toddler behaviour

Toddlers want to be in control and call the shots and when this is happening alongside another similarly aged child, problems can arise. Their feelings can be intense and are demonstrated using their whole body. It’s important to be specific and clear about expectations at this stage. Children will neither appreciate nor respond well to instructions focused too much on the future or the past. They are ‘here and now’ people. For example, say ‘No scratching! That really hurts.’ Follow this up with instant removal of the child and comfort for Rosie if she needs it.

It can be easy for parents to get frustrated and angry with their toddler’s swinging emotional states. A grand idea of having children over to play can easily sour when their toddler refuses to let others touch any toys or activities — claiming everything as ‘theirs’. 


Open-ended play activities that allow for movement are important for toddlers. Water play, play dough, sand and earth which can all be shared and used in individual ways will suit them well. Toys are not always necessary for playing together. Guessing games, dancing, chasing or hide-n-seek where everyone can join in can also work well.

Pretend play will also appeal to toddlers and suit their love of interaction and change.


When toys have to be shared, parents can try using a timer so everyone gets a fair share. In this situation a child will often find something else to explore in the meantime and may lose interest in what they really wanted a few minutes before.

Some young children can be supported to find their own solutions. For example, ‘You two seem to be having trouble sharing this pram. What can we do about it?’

Further information

  • A short clip of toddlers participating in parallel play

  • Here's a clip from the SKIP Facebook page about the Hampden Community Playgroup which has connected young families, providing young children opportunities to become more social and learn through play.

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