An expletive slips out when you drop something on your foot. Five minutes later, your toddler is parading around, repeating what you said. Ouch! The process of social interaction begins as children copy what others say and do, according to Dr. Joanne Jasmine, professor of education and coordinator of master’s level curriculum and instruction at Caldwell College in New Jersey. Although every child grows and develops at her own pace, there are social developments you can typically expect.
1. Imitates Life
Toddlers begin to visualize events and remember things. They enjoy watching television shows and videos over and over. Have you noticed your toddler starting to act like the characters he’s watching on television? Encourage him to continue learning to interact by exposing him to a wide variety of play materials that imitate life. Children should play in toy kitchens. Set up a “school” with crayons, paper and stuffed animals. Continue this real-life play into the preschool years.
2. Develops Trust
Toddlers develop trust, but it must be accompanied by predictability of routine, says Jasmine. When children of this age have their schedules interrupted, they sometimes experience tantrums. They can become confused and tired when they don’t know what to expect. This causes them to react. Face it -- as an adults, you sometimes don’t react well to routine changes either! When your child’s schedule is going to change, prepare her by explaining the situation.
During the preschool years, children move beyond imitating and begin to control behaviors and self-regulate. Set clear limits and establish a few rules at this point. Your child knows not to throw a ball in the house. If you see him just roll the ball or put it away, praise him for controlling his behavior. You might overhear your child having a lengthy conversation with his stuffed bear about not throwing a ball in the house. He is processing information through self-talk. If he observes negative actions, he will internalize those as well, warns Jasmine.
4. Works Independently
One quality that sets a preschooler apart from a toddler is her ability to work independently on a task or initiate an action without being told. Your preschooler may automatically put on her shoes to get ready for school, put on a jacket to go outside or go to the bathroom without a reminder. Praise her and encourage these self-help skills. They will benefit her when she’s ready to enter kindergarten.
5. Plays Cooperatively
Toddlers engage in parallel play. Two children may be playing with blocks, but they don’t work together or fully interact. They build their own designs. Preschoolers begin to play and interact cooperatively. They learn from each other as they work together on one product. You might observe preschoolers teaching each other to play hopscotch or a board game. Play is important for both toddlers and preschoolers because it encourages social skills, helps teach life skills and promotes language development. Emphasize structured and unstructured play so your child has a chance to develop these skills.
6. Displays Character
One important social milestone for a 4 year old is cooperating with other children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a child matures, he learns to take turns and compromise. He asserts his needs, but expresses anger effectively. Encourage your child to be polite, develop a sense of humor and have empathy for others. With these qualities, he will ultimately be invited by others to join in and play.