Social Development

Relationships with Others

Social development involves your child having the skills he needs to form positive relationships with peers and family members.


Nolan and his dad go to a family barbecue at the park on Sunday. During the drive in the car, Nolan is having a good time and singing along to the music. When the two of them arrive at the park, Nolan becomes very quiet and stops singing. “Nolan, we’re here!” Dad says. Nolan puts his head down. “Nolan, look! Your cousin is here! Don’t be sad, I’m here with you.” Nolan jumps out of the car seat, climbs down and clings to his cousin, hugging her as tightly as he can. “Nolan, play,” says his cousin. Nolan still hugs his cousin tightly for a few more minutes until Dad comes over with a toy truck. “You can go play,” says Dad. Nolan looks up at Dad again then lets go of his cousin and takes the truck with his cousin to the sand box.


Nolan is given support when Dad tells him that his cousin is here and he is going to play with her. Because he feels supported and trusts that his dad is in close proximity, Nolan feels comfortable cementing a relationship with his cousin.

Social relationships help your child gain trust, confidence, and security—all of which are important for him to explore his environment, learn, interact, and build relationships with others. Your child needs to learn to trust very early in life. When your child feels that he can trust you and other familiar people, then he will be more willing and open to meeting new people and peers. This is because your child understands that you will always be nearby to provide support when needed.

Relationships with your child first consist of meeting your child’s basic needs through sensitive caregiving.

By responding in a warm, loving, and gentle way, you’re helping your child learn about communication, behavior, and emotions, making him feel safe and secure, and promoting a strong relationship between you and him. Those relationships let children express themselves—a cry, a laugh, a question—and get something back: a cuddle, a smile, an answer.

If these needs are consistently met, trust develops. Secure attachment relationships provide your child with feelings of self-worth and conf idence. What children “get back” gives them very important information about what the world is like and how to act in the world.

At this age, your child is happier playing next to rather than with a peer. He will imitate what he sees another child doing without interacting with him. Play at this stage of development is called “parallel play” in which toddlers will play next to each other but not with each other.

During this stage of development it is essential to make sure your child is encouraged (praised), loved (hugs and kisses), and can develop trust and security with you (needs being consistently met).

Playing with peers will help teach him key social skills such as how to be kind, to share, and to resolve conflict; however, it’s too early to expect them to play together; this will not happen until around two and a half years of age.

Regarding Nolan’s trip to the family barbeque, note that when he became quiet he was experiencing a bit of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety occurs when there is a physical separation between him or her and you. This is a normal experience for your child to have when he has formed positive social relationships with his parents and others he sees on a regular basis.

A securely attached child will miss his parents when separated and will welcome the parents’ or caregiver’s reappearance or staying in close proximity. As your child grows older separation anxiety will lessen; instead, he will use other skills such as language, eye contact, and gestures to stay connected to you. Yet even with these newest social skills, your child will continue to seek physical closeness to you.