It happened to me: When your toddler prefers the company of adults

PHOTO: Gallo images/ Getty images
PHOTO: Gallo images/ Getty images

Does your toddler prefer the company of adults over socialising with their peers?

Is this simply a stage they’re going through or should you be encouraging them to make friends in a new environment?

We ask an expert when you should worry and how you can help.

Gloria* was fortunate enough to be able to leave her daughter Grace* in the care of her grandmother for the first three years of her life.

Then the family decided it was time for Grace to start attending a playschool.

However, in the four months since she started going there, she hasn’t made any friends and doesn’t interact with other children, instead preferring the company of the teacher.

Gloria is worried about Grace’s behaviour and would like to help her adjust in her new environment.

Clinical psychologist Nicole Roux says it’s perfectly normal for children of Grace’s age to seek out the assistance of an adult when they need help navigating new social situations or when conflict arises with other children.

“A child may seek out an adult to attach to as they feel the need for security in their environment,” she explains.

Is it important for children like this to interact with their peers?

It’s very important for children to have the opportunity to interact with their peers at this age, says Roux. “They still require the comfort of a familiar adult in their vicinity as they explore and play, however as their sense of independence becomes more established they begin to seek friends for play and interaction.”

When should a parent be concerned?

“Naturally a parent would be concerned if it appears as though their child is not settling into a new environment,” says Roux. However, she adds, parents should look out for these signs before worrying:

  • Your child doesn’t interact with other children in any social setting (not just at a new school or other unfamiliar places).
  • Your child is extremely distressed over a long period of time when being left at school – he/she cries, has tantrums and feigns illness to avoid going there.
  • Your child exhibits regressive behaviour over a long period of time – bed-wetting starts again after they’ve been potty-trained or they start sucking their thumb and so forth.

What should a parent do?

Roux gives these tips for moms who want to help and encourage their children:

  • Encourage your child’s need for independence. When you support them to do certain things on their own and explore social situations, you help them become more self-reliant and self-sufficient.
  • Facilitate play with other children in an environment where your child feels secure. Invite some friends from school over for a playdate at your house or encourage your child to play with other children when visiting friends or family.
  • Discuss your child’s behaviour with their teacher. They’ll be able to give you more accurate insight into what the situation is like when you’re not around.
  • If the teacher feels your child’s behaviour is worrisome or your little one needs help, have them assessed by a child psychologist.

This may be helpful in determining whether your child is showing signs of separation anxiety or other developmental hurdles. 

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