“Mom, I want to say hi to dem! Can I give dem a hug?” The words of my almost 3-year-old anytime he sees an employee in the aisles of our local Target. My parents always comment on how much of a social butterfly I was as a child, so I guess I should’ve been prepared for a mini-me. I now consider myself a “shy extrovert,” so I’m not the type of person to start up random conversations with strangers; however, it seems like my son is hellbent on making me one. I chalk it up to a combination of nature and nurture because even though extroverted qualities seem to run in our family, we have worked hard to develop healthy toddler social skills over the years.
It’s a proven fact that children learn best through play because playing is the simplest way for them to make sense of the world around them. There are countless different forms of play and each helps children develop a specific area of learning. Imaginative play is vital when teaching toddlers how to socialize and communicate with others.
When kids use their imaginations to create new scenarios, their minds are working to relate the activity to real-life situations. That’s why we love and trust brands like Melissa & Doug and their expertly crafted toys that specialize in pretend play. Melissa & Doug toys encourage children to become storytellers and encourage creativity—this ultimately helps them learn socialization skills in the process.
Use high-quality pretend play toys
Melissa & Doug’s realistic play sets allow children to role-play real-life interactions. Whether they’re pretending to be an ice cream shop employee or a dentist, they are internalizing all of the interactions they’re having with you or other kids during playtime. That’s how simple games turn into actual skills that they will carry with them as they grow.
It’s honestly pretty mesmerizing watching your child interact with pretend play toys and seeing them connect their every day experiences during playtime. The right toys inspire them to explore communication and connection. And our editors all agree, Melissa & Doug does pretend toys best. All of their pretend play sets come with tons of pieces that are designed with thought and care. They resemble real-life items all while being safe for tiny hands to explore. Plus, the high-quality materials are durable and lasting, which is a must for our adorable, clumsy humans who have a knack for dropping (or throwing) toys.
Create a narrative during playtime
Choosing a prompt and creating a story together is a great way to use pretend play toys with your toddler. You can use a social story that will help teach them a specific skill or behavior. For instance, if you’re playing “ice cream shop,” you can pretend to drop one of your scoops and explain how that makes you feel, then show them the solution (like asking for another scoop). Or, if you play “dentist,” express that you are nervous and present them with the opportunity to comfort you. These are all playtime prompts that will give them the tools they need for future social interactions.
Model good social skills
Children imitate everything we do, whether we intend them to or not. I mean, how many times have we caught ourselves saying a bad word only for them to immediately catch it and turn into tiny parrots. Well, we can use this to our advantage by modeling positive toddler social skills like using polite language, showing empathy, and taking turns with their toys. Practicing these skills at home will improve their emotional development whenever they are in a public setting with other kids.
A great example of this would be playing with the Thirst Quencher Dispenser to show them how to politely ask for a refill of their drink. You could also pair it with any of Melissa & Doug’s play food sets and show them how to place an order like you would at a restaurant. Modeling this behavior to our son has helped his confidence and he now orders for himself when we go out to eat.
Choose toys that feel familiar
Since the minute your kids were placed in your arms, they have been obsessed with you. Use that to your advantage and choose toys that resemble items that you use in your everyday life. Toddlers love to copy everything their parents do, so they will naturally be drawn to the tiny pretend smoothie maker and baking supplies if that’s what you do too. When you hear the words “mama I made you a smoovie!” twenty times a day and have to pretend slurp it every single time, just remember that these are the foundational skills they need.
When you incorporate Melissa & Doug pretend toys in your play routine, your toddler will not only have endless opportunities for fun but will also build on their emotional and social skills. Kids become more independent and self-confident when they use pretend toys to imitate the world around them. It’ll broaden their minds and allow them to become better communicators and socializers as they continue to grow.
This post contains a sponsored inclusion of Melissa & Doug, but all the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.