A Time for Cooperation

Between 2 and 3, social skills blossom quickly. How do toddlers progress from "mine!" to "your turn"?


Girl pouting

Enter the almost-3-year-old. While still spending lots of time tussling over toys, he begins to display a new spirit of cooperation. Similar-age playmates engage in ever more elaborate fantasy games such as tea parties, help each other finish puzzles, and express concern over one another's boo-boos.

During the year between the second and third birthdays, progress made in the arena of socialization seems nothing short of miraculous. Here's how you can best help your 2-year-old through these momentous developments as his social skills begin to blossom.

One mistake parents frequently make is fretting over the apparent lack of interest a 2-year-old has in playmates. Although a child this age may shriek with delight at the prospect of seeing a familiar child, the rendezvous itself can be anticlimactic, at least from a parent's point of view: Both kids end up playing separately, with nary a word passing between them.

Have no fear. There is socializing of a sort going on here. The "dialogue" of toddlerhood-staring, smiling, and imitating-may be subtle. Nonetheless, it's important. Piece by tentative piece, the groundwork is being laid for a lifetime of positive interactions with others. In fact, research shows that children as young as 20 months old are already beginning to form unique relationships. They prefer certain playmates over others, and the fondness is usually reciprocal.

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