If you only have one child (or are dealing with an age gap that's not ideal for sibling play), you will likely end up as the playmate of last resort...especially during quarantine. This is a very challenging situation to keep up with, day after day. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to engage your toddler's social skills...even while cooped up at home! 

Adopt a furry friend.

For parents who are up for doing litter-box training alongside potty-training, I LOVE the idea of getting a pet. Pets can teach kids about responsibility…and may boost social-emotional development! In one study, pet ownership was linked to fewer peer problems, better emotional health, and prosocial behavior in kids.

Try virtual visits.

Plan virtual playdates with friends and family. When you’re setting up phone dates with the grandparents, neighbors, or daycare classmates, remember that wiggly toddlers aren’t the most refined conversationalists. So, you might find it helpful to have some kind of a game plan before your call. Maybe you have Grandma read a favorite story via Zoom, or maybe you set up the phone (out of arm’s reach) while your tot is finger-painting so they can babble about the fun colors they’re swirling as they talk to an aunt or uncle. Or perhaps there’s a game you could play (something as simple as peek-a-boo or “head, shoulders, knees and toes”). This takes the pressure off both your toddler and the person you’re talking to carry the conversation.

Consider an open-air outing.

There are ways to socialize somewhat safely in open air outdoor spaces, since coronavirus appears to be transmitted indoors much more often than outdoors. Of course, you will still want to have your child wear a mask and take as many precautions as possible to lower your exposure risk. For example, playing catch in the park is an activity that allows you to keep your distance from others while still being social. If you’re comfortable with the idea of pandemic pods, you could pair up with another family to form a pandemic pod. However, it’s very important that you quaranteam carefully…here’s what you need to know about quaranteams.  

Show your toddler what it’s like to be social.

You can help your toddler pick up on social conventions when you play with them. For instance, playing an age-appropriate board game can help them learn how to take turns. Asking your toddler questions builds curiosity and teaches conversational skills. Storytelling and role-playing with dolls or loveys can also be a way to subtly teach lessons on topics like empathy and manners. You might not be as fun a playmate as the 2-year-old down the street, but there’s still a lot your tot can gain from spending time with you!

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