What Is Social Play & Why Is It Important? 6 MAJOR Benefits!

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 03/16/21 •  7 min read  •  Preschool » Preschooler Play

Being social is at the heart of every human interaction and relationship.

But how does social play help our children develop those skills?

What Is Social Play?

Social play is a form of play where young children interact with others. 

And healthy social play allows children to learn how to interact with others and how to manage their own emotions and behaviour.

But here’s the SECRET that you need to know…

Your baby engages in social play from the day they are born. 

I know… This goes against what every other parenting article you’ve ever read!

But it’s true and here’s why…

In early childhood, your baby’s social skills begin to develop when they interact with you.

And I know this sounds weird… but social play is not just about playing… 

It’s about developing social skills in your child so that as they grow up, they gradually learn to play with other children in an interactive way in what we would identify as play.

What Stage Is Social Play?

Social play is the last of six stages of play that your baby will progress through as they grow up.

If you’re interested in the 6 stages of play, check out the below posts to learn more:

Why Is Social Play Important?

Social play is vitally important for your child’s emotional development and education. It teaches them how to get along with other children and how to behave within the social structure of the family in a kind and considerate way.

In fact, play in general is so important for your child’s development! Check out ‘The Importance Of Play In Child Development‘ post to learn more!

As humans, we rely on our social skills to survive and to have healthy and meaningful relationships with other people.

Therefore, offering children the opportunity to engage in social play allows them to practice their social skills in a fun way and develop essential life skills!

Children need a lot of practice to learn how to get along with others. Young children can try out different social skills through play and learn what works and what doesn’t in a fun and safe way.

They will discover and experience what type of behaviour makes others upset and will be able to explore their own emotions in different social situations.

The 6 Benefits Of Social Play!

Social play will help to:

Pretty great, right?! So, how can we encourage social play?

How Do You Encourage Social Play?

Well… as I mentioned before… Social play starts from the day baby is born.

To begin with, YOU are the one that your little one will engage with socially. 

When you talk to them and make eye contact with them and they coo and smile back at you, you are engaging them on a social level and they will be getting a positive response to their interaction with you.  

REMEMBER: How you interact with your child at this early age will affect their social development.

As your child grows, there are lots of activities that can encourage our children to develop social skills in a fun way. 

Children need adult support in order to learn the necessary social skills to function successfully in society, so we need to lead by example and show them the way.

Being socially adept does not come naturally or easily to toddlers.

They are self centred, unable to know how to solve conflicts in a socially acceptable way and are not yet able to read other children’s emotions. 

How you treat your child will have a huge impact on how they treat others. 

The best way to help your child on their social skills journey is to offer them opportunities where you can guide them and show them how to behave and then encourage them to model that behaviour.

Simply, the more social scenarios they experience the better!

Examples Of Social Scenarios

Llama Llama Time to Share

Loved by families all over the world, Llama's story about learning to share his toys with his neighbours is a brilliant way of opening the conversation about how and why sharing is important to your toddler!

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The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions By Anna Llenas
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What Are The Best Activities For Social Play?

There are loads of FANTASTIC ways to engage your child in social play. Here are a few of my favourites!

What Are Some Examples Of Social Development?

Your child will show different signs of social development and social skills depending on their age.

Up until they are 3 years of age, young children will learn most of their social skills from you and their families.

Your reaction to their developing behaviour and emotions will help them to develop the necessary social skills to later be kind, disciplined and considerate. At this age, they will observe other children but will NOT interact with them on a social level.

From age 3 to 4, however, their social skills will begin to develop in a very different way. At this age, they may become more bossy and defiant, be more independent and on the social side they should show signs of being able to:

From the ages of 4-5 years of age, children begin to develop a stronger sense of self and start to recognise their own individuality. At this age they will very likely to:

What stage of social play is your little one at and how are their personalities developing? Are they confident, taking leadership or happy to follow? Are they content playing with you?

REMEMBER: No matter where your little one is on their social development journey… know that it’s an ever growing skill set that’s been going on since birth!

Need More Parenting Help?

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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