Helping Toddlers Play Together
Two year olds can become even more tempestuous than usual when another child is on their turf. A friend comes to visit with her toddler, or you agree to babysit a young cousin, and heaven forbid you pay any attention to your little guest — your child makes it clear you should only have eyes for her!
If you see signs of this type of jealousy when another child visits, what can you do to reassure your child, but still give a tot you're caring for the attention he needs? And how can you encourage your child to play nicely side-by-side? Here are simple ways to introduce your child to the idea of sharing (mommy!) and playing together:
- Make each child feel special. In all your actions, give lots of tender pats, lap time, and individual time to your own child, as well as to your guest. Changing diapers is a wonderful time for giving special attention. Your focus is exclusively on your child, and you can lovingly talk to her as you make her comfortable in a dry diaper.
- Read stories about families. Sit on a couch and make sure that each child is leaning against your body, one on each side. Choose picture books with large, colorful photos or illustrations. Books that show animal families are wonderful. Point out pictures of mama doggies and their puppies. Praise each child as he exclaims, points to the pictures, and tries to make the noises appropriate to each animal. As you look at the pictures, try making up stories about how well the kittens in the family tumble and play with each other. They are so happy to have each other as friends to play with!
- It takes two. Emphasize how two can have more fun than one. Look for simple activities that reinforce the message: For instance, they can roll a ball back and forth, or make a small see-saw go up and down, because there are two of them.
- Encourage taking turns. Create play situations that require two children to keep a game going so that they can enjoy the activity together. For example, they may enjoy climbing up the slide in your backyard and taking turns sliding down, then rushing back to climb up and slide down again! Or make a counting game when they are on the swings. First one gets a push, then the other gets a push, then one gets two pushes, and so on.
- Tap their inner artist. Having young children draw together is a good way to promote side-by-side play. Be sure to have enough paper, crayons, and markers for each child; they are still too young to be able to share the same art supplies. As they scribble together, tell them how much you enjoy their coloring and making pictures together, and how proud you are of their artwork. When they are finished, display a few of their creations.
- Make mealtimes fun. Cheerfully describe the food you're serving as you put it on their plates or highchair trays. Tell them how much fun it is to have eating times together. Eat a bit with them and smack your lips in enjoyment. Do not compare the children as to who has better table manners or who eats more food. Children feel even more aggrieved and jealous when compared to others.
Throughout the day, be sure to use each child's name in a personal, positive way as you engage in turn-taking conversations with them, even if their sounds and words are still garbled. After a while, this reassurance that you have lots of love and attention for the two of them, in addition to their added pleasure as playmates, will help them enjoy each other's company.