I don’t have brothers or sisters yet, so Mummy and Daddy are keen for me to socialise with people my own age and make my own friends. They think it’ll help my confidence and self-esteem, and improve my overall well-being. Mummy is well aware how beneficial fulfilling friendships are so she wants me to have nice friends, too.
As with adult relationships though, toddler friendships can’t be forced. Children learn from watching, so we need to spend time with other children to build our social skills. Mummy’s well aware of me learning from seeing – I carry a handbag over my arm like she does, I dunk my bread in my soup like Daddy does. I’m also copying what I hear now, so Daddy has to mind his language!
Now, the point of this story is about toddler friendships and an incident at the soft play place last week. For a long time, babies play side by side, alone, rather than with each other, but now that we’ve become toddlers, my friends and I are starting to play together. I love chasing and being chased, and the shrieks of laughter as we do laps around the sofa at a friend’s house is testimony to that.
I’m sure it’s really tempting for mummies to jump in and do things for us, but it’s important that you let us start to sort things out for ourselves. How else will we learn, and find our own two feet to stand on?
So, there we were at the soft play. I can be quite stand-offish to start with. I like to survey the scene before I get stuck in, check out the lay of the land. By the time I’d warmed up, I’d spotted a little girl I thought I might like to play with, or at least show some affection to. She was roughly the same age as me, perhaps a little younger. I followed her around for a bit, after all, no-one appreciates someone being too forward! When the time was right, I launched my cuddle. So far, so good. She didn’t cry, she didn’t wriggle, I thought it was ok. I gave her another one. Same thing. By the third time, I was hoping for a little reciprocation, but instead I was prised off her by her over-protective mother who came charging across the room to her daughter’s ‘rescue.’
Talk about a sledgehammer to crack a nut! Now, I’ll admit, if I were a hulking great rugby player charging down the wing at high speed, you might accuse me of a high tackle, but there was certainly not that reaction from the tackle-ee. She was sitting inside a car, I was standing beside it, so I could only wrap my arms around her neck. I promise I was gentle!
In my opinion, the mother totally over-reacted; the child was not struggling, not crying, not seeming the least bit distressed. Better surely to have let the girl sort it out for herself, if she needed to? Teach her to have a voice, stand up for herself. I hadn’t done anything aggressive, but if I had, it might just have been that I was trying to communicate – we toddlers are just learning, so don’t always realise that hitting or pushing might not be the best way to get someone to play a game. That’s where it might be appropriate for you grown-ups to step in, but to channel that ‘energy’ towards a more positive interaction. That way, we learn what’s wrong, but also how to do it right next time.