If your child is at the parallel play age, here’s what to keep in mind.

Have you ever noticed two kids start playing side-by-side in the sandbox without interacting? It’s called parallel play and is a completely normal stage in a child’s development. 

For the first year or so of your baby’s life, playtime is a pretty solitary affair. But as your child ages, you’ll notice him or her starting to play with other children. Not playing together, necessarily, but side-by-side. When children play near other kids without interacting they are engaging in what early childhood development experts call “parallel play.” To provide an example, if you see your child approach a group of children, pick up a doll, and play alone –without having the doll “talk” with other dolls or something similar– then your child is engaging in parallel play. 

Parents may be confused as to why their child seems totally immersed in a game yet ignoring potential playmates. However, parallel play is a completely normal stage of development. It’s technically considered the fourth stage in the “play spectrum” and happens during toddlerhood starting at around 1 years old. Read more about the different stages here.

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What you need to know about parallel play:

  • At this stage of development, your child is still too young to understand and deal with the complexity of having peers. Playing side-by-side independently is a great start! You might even notice your child mimicking the play of those around them, which is an important part of their development.
  • Even if it may seem like a solitary experience, your little one is actually learning about other children and about emotions, reactions, and social situations. This style of play also still allows your little one to experiment with causality, language, and gross and fine motor control!
  • Think of this as your child’s warm-up before actually engaging with peers.
  • Many of Kinedu’s activities are great for encouraging parallel play! Use some of the available ideas to set play-dates for your little one, and don’t fuss about both kids interacting or playing in tandem. Just let their inner creativity guide them into whatever they want to do, each on their own.
  • Give your child positive praise and feedback for playing near friends. Be sure not to force your child to do anything too soon! Your child isn’t being shy, most likely, just moving through a normal phase of development.

María Mirón is a psychology researcher with a Masters in Clinical Psychology. With over eight years of research experience, she has published and presented extensively on Early Childhood Development forums across the globe and is currently a professor of research methods at the University of Monterrey. She is on a mission to bridge the gap between the science of ECD and practical tools for parents.

Riley Stevenson is a writer and teacher from Portland, OR with a Masters in Media Studies and Education. She’s certified as an English as a Foreign Language instructor and Trauma-Informed Care provider. Riley spent five years working as a language arts teacher in Oregon public schools, where she served as a lead curriculum consultant. She’s interested in the development of early language skills, especially in the area of second language acquisition.