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Precious Beginnings - Child's Play

Child playing with toys

Q. When my toddler is playing with other children, what should I expect in terms of his behavior?

A. Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 5 will initially have trouble playing well with others. The skill of sharing is not usually learned until 3 or 4. Be sure to praise your child when you see him playing nicely with others. Most children learn play behaviors by imitating other children, especially older siblings. Eventually, your child will begin to share certain objects and learn to cooperate during playtime.

Q. Is there a "right" way to play with my toddler?

A. The best way is to simply have fun! Follow your child's lead by letting him or her choose the game or activity. Don't give too many instructions or commands. Praise good play behavior and give positive consequences (hugs, kisses, longer playtime) when your child cooperates and shares. If you need to correct your child's behavior, redirect his or her attention to something more appropriate.

Q. What can my child learn during playtime?

A. Play is a wonderful way for children to learn social skills, including how to share and cooperate. You can encourage your toddler's social development by playing games such as "Simon Says." The game is a fun, easy way to teach your toddler how to follow instructions.

Q. Is it okay for my son to play with dolls?

A. It's quite common for young boys and girls to want to play with all types of toys, and that's great. Adults often view toys as gender-specific, but toddlers don't think that way. They simply love to play. You should provide your son with a variety of activities and games so he becomes socially well-rounded.

Q. My 4-year-old daughter bullies other kids. Is that normal?

A. Some bullying behavior is part of normal development. If the behavior is frequent, you should teach a positive replacement behavior. For example, several times each day you should have your daughter practice being considerate to others. Teach her to say "Please" and "Thank you," instead of grabbing things and running away. You can also let her earn fun privileges when she practices or interacts well with others. When you see her engage in bullying behavior, give a negative consequence. (Put her favorite toy in time-out, for example.) Be firm with your daughter without turning into a bully yourself.

Q. My 3-year-old has started to cling to me whenever I try to go somewhere without him. Is this normal? Is there something I can do to prevent it?

A. The answer is "Yes" to both questions. Clinging behavior is part of the natural bonding process between a parent and a child. You provide your child a sense of security and your absence can be frightening. To encourage independence in your 3-year-old, give him small tasks that you know he can accomplish. Praise him when he plays by himself or with others. Teach him what to do when you leave. For example, tell him to find his favorite toy and ask the sitter to play along. You can also create little rewards for your son when he doesn't cling to you. Keep in mind that it can take awhile for him to feel secure. There will probably be some crying and whining, so please be patient.

Q. Is the quantity of time I spend with my kids more important than the quality of time?

A. Yes. Being an effective, loving parent means taking advantage of all the time you have with your kids. You can't be a parent only when you feel like it. You need to develop healthy, positive relationships with your children. Spending time together is the best way to do that.