It’s been a weird few years for children, especially regarding social development. If you happen to be a toddler, you may not even know what friendship and play dates are all about yet. With such a shift towards online and virtual components for schooling, even children well into play-date age may not be experiencing much in-person social engagement either.
At your own comfort levels, it’s important to find ways to bring in-person socializing back into the lives of our children. Socializing helps children build skills to help them feel more confident and resilient. Social interactions make life feel less scary. When children play together, they learn to share, set boundaries and how to problem solve even the most seemingly difficult challenges for their age. These skills transfer to home settings, school, daycare, camp, wherever your child may be!
Play – including socializing – is essential the ‘job’ of a child. It’s their first career! Their social development moves from parallel play (around ages 0-2) where they tend to just play next to each other, to actually noticing and acknowledging each other (around ages 2-3), to beginning to understand the full value of friendship around ages 4-5.
While kids are resilient, by nature, a lack of socializing can be quite harmful to their overall health and well-being. They may already feel anxious about restrictions or confused about why they cannot play with their friends in real life. Technology provides some options, but for younger children making the effort for in-person play time is necessary. Now, that doesn’t mean you throw all caution to the wind. You can still proceed with smaller groups, make sure everyone washes their hands before and after playing, ask parents to confirm that nobody is sick in their households. Since children have less awareness about personal space and boundaries, they do tend to play closer together so you have to be mentally prepared for that, without worrying too much about the risks for illness. Finding like-minded parents can be helpful in keeping your own anxieties calmed.
Taking children to a community playground can be a great opportunity for rebuilding their social circles. Finding a neighbourhood playground, and interacting with the neighbours can help build a base for friendship with the same children that they will likely end up in school with. Creating those playdates or meet ups can ensure that your children feel more comfortable when the time comes to leave their parents and go to daycare, but at least the kids from the playground are there to help make them feel OK. Socializing, early and often, can help ease transitions and reduce separation anxiety.
Encouraging cooperative play at playgrounds is one simple step you can make towards helping your children foster new friendships.