“Playing nicely,” and its twin, “sharing without being asked,” can feel like holy grails of parenting, but like the holy grail, on some days, they can feel not just out of reach, but mythical, something you hear about but never see. your baby is young enough that she probably hasn’t had the chance to develop any serious conflicts with other children, so if you’ve noticed that she is having trouble getting along with her playmates, there’s probably a pretty simple explanation.
Two-year-olds and almost-two-year olds are tricky. This is because they can look and seem incredibly mature, especially compared to how little they once were, but they’re still at a pretty early stage of development. Even though they’re often walking around like little athletes-in-the-making, and talking enough to make themselves understood, and getting along with you, your partner, and other adults in more and more interesting ways every day, they’re still pretty early in their social development. At this age, many toddlers are just getting ready to get started on parallel play. In parallel play, toddlers don’t really play “with” each other, but rather play near each other, and may be interested enough to watch each other, or even to change the way they play in response to what other toddlers are doing around them.
This means that when toddlers around your baby’s age play “together,” a lot of the time, it might actually look more like ignoring each other, or watching each other warily. There may be some occasional grabbing of another toddler’s toy and then squabbling over it, but mostly, toddlers your baby’s age don’t play together in a very interactive way. This isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean there’s no use in having toddlers socialize at this age. Setting toddlers up near each other, and watching them watch each other, may not be the most exciting part of early socialization, but it’s a great way for your baby to start to get more comfortable with kids her own age, so she may have worked off a little bit of shyness by the time she’s old enough to be interested in interactive play.
Toddlers are young, but they’re also smart, and there’s a good chance that your little one has picked up on the fact that, when other children are around, the adults in her life start expecting her to share. Sharing is an important skill, and one your baby will have to learn eventually, but if the pressure to share is stressing her out, or taking the fun out of playdates, she may not be quite ready to learn about sharing in a serious way yet. Toddlers under 2 often aren’t developmentally ready to really “get” sharing, so playing with or near other kids is going often runs more smoothly in settings where there are enough toys to go around until toddlers are a little more mature.
It’s not that common for toddlers your baby’s age to have true personality conflicts with other toddlers, but it does happen. If there’s a true personality mismatch - like if another child who you commonly have playdates with plays much rougher than your baby - there’s nothing wrong with respecting the fact that your baby and this other child might not get along so well. This might mean limiting playdates with this child a little, at least until they’re older or maybe more ready to play by the rules, or it might mean supervising those playdates a little more carefully, so your baby feels more comfortable and has more fun.Ultimately, your baby has a whole life ahead of her to make friends and (hopefully not) enemies. Right now, though, her interactions with other toddlers are probably going to be pretty simple, at least for a while.