Chances are you’ve watched your infant or toddler in a playgroup or family gathering with other children and noticed that, unlike the full interaction he shares with you or his older siblings, he’s probably not really playing with other kids his age. Instead, he is content to sit next to a potential buddy, seemingly ignoring him or her, while they both sort shapes, play with cars, or chew on everything they can get their hands on.
This form of entertainment is called parallel play. And while it may not seem all that interactive, it plays an important role in your child’s social development. Parallel play is play in which children play next to or next to each other, but not with each other. This is the default play mode for infants and toddlers who have not yet developed the understanding or skills to play socially with others.
In parallel play, the infant or toddler is mostly in his own world, and the playmates around him are also involved in their own world. Babies in a playgroup may, for example, sit next to each other, each eating their own soft block or teething toy. Two toddlers can work in the play kitchen, each preparing their own culinary creation with little (or no) input from the other.