Understanding parallel play

Emmy Samtani
Emmy Samtani
Emmy is the founder of Kiindred and mother to 3 little ones. Over the last 4 years, she has worked with some of the most credible experts in the parenting space and is a keen contributor on all things parenthood.
Created on Oct 04, 2023 · 2 mins read

Play is a fundamental way children start to learn about the world around them and other social interactions. Through toys, books, arts and crafts, and more they are able to refine motor skills as well as their imaginations. By the age of two, many children become curious beyond belief. From grabbing anything they can in their tiny fists to pointing at every object imaginable, they just want to play! You might be wondering when they will start interacting and playing with other children their age.

What is parallel play?

To put it simply, this is when your child will do their normal activities but alongside another toddler. However, they won’t play together as such. This will look like your child is playing physically close to another child but not the same games. They are focused on their own tiny curiosities. You might call them their own personal ‘zones’.

Why does it happen?

As they are learning about the world around them and finally becoming aware of other children, they are navigating this new territory. Socialising is a big step! Figuring out how to share and play with another person is not part of their skillset just set. They’re still focused on picking up things properly and creating their own games. As with any skill, this will come with time and exposure. Ultimately, this is a crucial step because it is setting them up to begin making their own friends.

How to encourage parallel play?

Don’t overcomplicate it! Set up little zones for them to pick up their toys and figure out their space. From there, introduce your friend’s kids and let them loose. It’s important you get involved in this stage to help along the progress, so be present. Simply invite 1 – 2 toddlers over and give them toys that will be good for sharing, like shape sorters. Keep an eye on them but don’t analyse every movement, they will find their way around each other.

Moving on to associative play

Typically, most children remain in the parallel play stage until around three years old. From there, they should slowly begin interacting with others and slightly sharing their toys. This might look like passing balls or blocks back and forth. There is very little direction or strong communication still, but small signs of awareness. To help them move along to this phase, introduce more sharing techniques and set a good example for them.

Witnessing your little one starting to play with others is a very exciting time. They might be starting to make their first friends! While this is a fun milestone, make sure to not force them to play with others. This won’t breed success for either of you. Instead, encourage and allow them to find their way with some comfortable zones and toys. Happy playing!

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