Two-Year-Old Doesn’t Like to Play with Others

Dear Dr. Rene,

My two-year-old daughter is happy, friendly and affectionate around adults, but, aside from a couple of her friends who recently moved away, she just does not seem to like other children at the moment! When I tell her that we are going somewhere to see her friend(s), she tells me that she wants just her and I to go. When we are in the company of other children, she gets upset if they come anywhere near her. While her friends want to hug, hold hands or play together, my daughter doesn’t really want anything to do with them. I stay at home with her, she does not go to school yet, but we do go to classes and meet up with friends on a regular basis. I’m hoping that this a quick passing phase, but was wondering if you have any advice on how I should handle this behavior.

Thank you,


Dear Nicole,

I know it can be difficult to watch your child struggle as she learns to be social. I want to first latch on to that she is friendly and affectionate towards adults, and you mentioned her having a few friends that recently moved. These points highlight that she has the capacity for being social. That she’s even had one recognized friendship at this little age is a positive. I would try to figure out if there was something particular she liked about the friends that moved away and look for that in new playmates. While I wouldn’t force the hand holding or hugs, I would continue to give lots of opportunities for play with her same age peers. Attend playgroups or gym classes, go to the playgrounds and take group swim lessons. Continue to model being social by greeting others, inviting them to join you at activities and talking about concepts like taking turn and sharing. Occasionally, host others for play at your house so she can have practice at being social in more comfortable surroundings.

Many two year olds still tend to engage in parallel play, playing near other children more than with them. By three to four years old, most of them move to more interactive play. It may be that she is simply still at parallel play. She may prefer adults as they lead play easily and offer good ideas. Adults are also more reciprocal than other two year olds with turntaking and sharing and less likely to provide conflicts. It may be helpful to try playdates with a few slightly older children in the neighborhood.

When she does request to be just the two of you, agree when that was already the plan. If it wasn’t, validate her request by saying something like, “I know you want it to be just mommy, but today we are meeting Johnny and his mom at the park.” I wouldn’t ignore her request, hear her first. Then calmly let her know the plan. I would think this will be a passing phase, but it’s something to keep in mind moving forward. I am hopeful for you both that she will find same-age friends easily when a good match presents itself.

You might also read Just You and Me by McBratney and talk about how the gosling wanted to be alone with the big goose, but how nice it was they shared their space with the other animals who wanted out of the rain.


Dr. Rene

Teaching Respect

In this day of award stealing moments and presidential bashing, I thought it is high time to blog about teaching children respect. As much as we focus on teaching them manners, respect seems to be falling by the wayside. There is a wide range of ways to approach this topic with children. I am going to list and discuss a bit by category.

  • Define respect with your children. What does having respect mean? How does being respectful shape our relationships? Talk about this, honesty and other related traits often. Point out when people are being respectful or disrespectful out in the world. Talk about the social exchanges you witness.


  • Model Respect. Children are learning best by watching and listening. Consider how you speak about your neighbor and how you argue with your spouse. If you mis-step, stop and apologize or otherwise make amends. If they see the mis-step, let them see the make-up.



  • First teach children about themselves. Children can not have respect for others until they have a sense of self and start to recognize differences. When a preschooler is making a noodle and yarn self-portrait, they are thinking about their eye color and skin color and can start to recognize the similarities and differences in others. This can build to likes and dislikes and personality difference. Then children can consider culture and religion. The idea is for parents to speak openly and respectfully about others as they go.



  • Teach diversity. Recognize and appreciate differences in others.



  • Teach respect for life. This can come through pet care or caring for the environment.



  • Teach about the life cycle. It is helpful to discuss birth, aging and death. Children can learn respect for elders by better understanding this process.



  • Teach manners. Through two years old, we model manners. Through three years old, we expect manners. After four years old, we enforce manners. This includes “please” and “thank you,” but it also includes speaking in a respectful tone and listening to others. These are things that should be taught over the long haul.



  • Give opportunity for responsibility. This means children should have chores and responsibilities. I like chores for allowance, but also feel children should have things they do just because they are part of the family. Helping should be a given.



  • Teach friendship and social skills. This is a wide category and includes the basics like listening to others, sharing and taking turns. It also touches on a sense of empathy, recognizing others emotions and being able to appropriately respond.



  • Take care of their own belongings. This means children should clean and care for their rooms. They should be expected to keep track of belongings at school and be held responsible when things are lost. There should be a system for children repaying for any losses.
  • Sports and teamwork may be helpful. Children participating with others makes them responsible to others for performance and follow-through.


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