Social Development

Can I Play?

Social skill development occurs when your child understands the feelings of others and can create positive relationships with peers and adults.


Two-and-a-half-year-old Josie is playing with her peer, Thomas, during morning playgroup. Josie spots a bin with colored blocks near Thomas and picks it up. One by one she takes out the blocks and lays them on the table in the shape of a circle. Josie calls out to Thomas, “Thomas, want some pizza? I have pizza for you!” Thomas replies, “Yes, I want pizza. I don’t like pepperoni pizza. It’s spicy.” Josie replies, “It’s cheese.” She then grabs a small toy shovel from the sand table across the room and comes back to scoop up a block “slice” of pizza for Thomas. “Here’s your pizza, Thomas!” Thomas scoots over to Josie and then says, “I don’t want cheese pizza!” Josie starts to cry and says, “I have your pizza.” Thomas looks up and says, “Okay, pizza please, thank you.”


Thomas is able to see that Josie is upset, shows empathy, and decides to have the pizza. Both children demonstrate cooperation and relationship building skills.

When your child was an infant, he engaged in solitary play (playing alone). When your child was a toddler, he engaged in both solitary play and parallel play (playing beside other children rather than with them). During both forms of play, your child was only interested in what he was doing.

Now your child wants to experience what it is like to really have a relationship with a peer whom they may later call a best friend. Your child’s social skills have developed so much that associative play is what he wants to do.

Associative play is when children play together.

Your child’s cooperation with other children grows as he develops more empathy regarding others’ feelings and wants.

Two year olds will borrow from peers and share toys, but this does not mean that they will necessarily play cooperatively. When children turn three, you will see more cooperative play experiences take place.

As your child grows older it is amazing to see how he learns to cooperate more with another person through the use of verbal interaction and understanding that relationship building involves give and take.

It is important for your child to be able to interact with others in a positive way because this skill will support him well into adulthood. Interacting well includes your child being able to cooperate, communicate, and work through problems that can and will happen during ordinary play with peers.

Every stride your child makes in social development brings him closer to forming healthy, positive relationships with you and others in his environment. Support opportunities for him to engage with others on a regular basis.