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Preschooler Social Development

Between the ages of 3 and 5, your preschooler is becoming a more social creature. Where once he may have thrown tantrums when frustrated or resolved a dispute by hitting or biting, he is now learning to share and cooperate. Here is what you need to know about social development in your preschooler.

Preschoolers and Fantasy Play

You may have noticed that your preschooler spends much of her time in fantasy play. She is starting to move past "parallel play" -- when children play alongside each other rather than with each other -- and is beginning to actively engage with other children.

At this age, play is more focused on make-believe than on toys or games. Preschoolers love to construct elaborate scenarios and assign each other roles to play. Going grocery shopping or going to the post office may seem mundane to you, but your child probably finds these chores fascinating and may mimic them in her make-believe play.

Make-believe is how children "try on" adult roles and behaviors they see in the world around them. This activity helps them develop important social skills such as taking turns, cooperating, and paying attention.

'Girly Girl' or 'All Boy'?

Fantasy play also gives your little boy or girl a chance to explore gender roles. Preschool-age boys will generally gravitate to masculine make-believe characters like the strapping superhero, while girls will adopt feminine roles, wanting to be the mommy when playing house, for example. Even if your home doesn't model traditional "masculine" and "feminine" roles, your child is exposed to these ideas from books, TV, extended family, and friends. So don't be surprised if your little boy, who at 2 loved to push a baby doll around in a stroller, has abandoned that for rowdy games with his male friends. 

Your preschooler may also go through phases where she wants to "try on" the role of the opposite sex and may suddenly become intensely interested in an older brother's toys or clothes. She may then swing back to the opposite extreme, insisting on wearing only pink dresses and bows in her hair. This is all normal experimentation and shouldn't be a concern.

 

Your Preschooler: Off to School

Around age 3 or 4, many children are starting school for the first time. This may be their first experience in a large group of children their own age, and it may take some getting used to. Your child suddenly has to share toys, take turns, communicate clearly, and cooperate with other children, and she'll probably need some help from the adults in her life. Many preschool activities are designed to work on developing these social skills. 

If your child isn't in school yet, it's important to provide plenty of opportunities for her to interact with other children her age, whether it's through playdates, trips to the playground, or organized activities like music classes or gymnastics.

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