Six Stages of Social Development

Disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links which I may earn a small commission from if you purchase through them, at no extra cost to you.

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During our day to day activities, one topic that seems to be coming up with Mummies of toddlers lately is social development. Each of us are encouraging our children to play with one another child building a sand castle or staking blocks however are we being realistic with our expectations?

Six Stages of Social Development

Just like every other type of development, social play is refined through different stages.

A child cannot walk before he can stand, nor can he talk before he babbles. There are milestones that are reached along the way that encourage the child to be successful with their new found skills.

Unoccupied Play (Newborn – 2years )

During this time, your child seemingly is not engaging in their environment or other children. They may make an occasional movement that has no obvious objective. They are more of an attempt to interact with their environment.

Solitary Play (2-3 years)

This stage involves any play without input from others. The child is usually unaware or not interested in the activities around them or presence of others.

While this style of play is mainly seen in younger children, it is an important skill to practise for older children. Solitary play allows the child to learn to entertain themselves.

Provide your child with a puzzles to improve her problem and cognitive skills which will be useful for future stages of social play.

Character Play (2- 3 ½ years)

During character play, your child will observe others and then start to incorporate what they have seen into their own play. A child may watch another decorate their sandcastle with leaves and then do the same to their own sandcastle.

Allow your child to explore character play with a play food in their toy kitchen. They can practise doing what they have witnessed you do over and over again – preparing meals!

Parallel Play (2- 3 1/2 years)

Parallel Play involves children playing side by side with similar materials but each is playing separately.

They may mimic one another and converse however complete their tasks independently.

Imagine a group of toddlers playing with play dough around a table. Each is creating their own sculpture however if one child were to leave the table, the others would still continue to play.

Associative Play (3-4years)

When children participate in loosely organised play with others, we refer to this as Associative Play.

There are no real rules or structure and if one of the children left the activity, the others would continue. Children begin to be more involved in what others are doing around them.

This is an important stage as it assists the children develop problem solving skills, cooperation and encourages language development. 

Cooperative Play (4-6 years) 

Cooperative Play involves children to be interested in both the activity and the people they are playing with as the games success depends on the participation of others.

The play is usually organised with clear roles assigned. When playing a game of ‘Shops’, one child would adopt the role of a store keeper and another a customer.

The aim of the game would be to replicate a shopping experience. If one of the children were to abandon the game, the play episode would not be able to continue.

Learning Social Development Through Play

Through play, our children learn

  • negotiation
  • problem solving
  • turn taking
  • sharing
  • conflict resolution skills  
  • empathy

These are social skills that we use every day to connect and communicate with each other.

Whether it be verbal or non verbal communication through speech, body language or gestures, a child with strong social skills will have a knowledge of behaviour that is appropriate to present in different social situations.

They will be able to recognise others feelings and act appropriately but not without going the different stages of Social Play.

When your two year old is hanging back watching from the sidelines or your three year old is acting out situations they experienced at the park with their toys at home, please be assured that they are learning so much about social conduct.

This will allow them to progress through these stages and develop vital social skills that they will carry with them well into adulthood.

Dani D x

Disclosure: This Blog does contain affiliate links which I may earn a small commission from if you purchase through them, at no extra cost to you.

Learn more about teaching your child to share here!

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Dani is a busy mum, pre-service teacher and and founder of Play Inspired Mum. Her goal is to inspire creative play ideas, encourage the love of reading, offer tips to make your household eco friendly and remind you that you are not alone on this wild rollercoaster of a journey known as parenting! She loves houseplants, giant chunky cookies and all things play based, incorporating learning experiences into every day!