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How can I get my 19 month old to socialize and listen better?

My 19 month old won't join in group activities like other children his age. He clings to me, cries a bit and won't follow instructions from me or the teacher like the other toddlers.


Matthew Gibson | Pediatrician

Matthew Gibson

Age 18 to 19 months can be a very challenging time when it comes to social development for any child and parent.

It is completely normal for children to have a degree of separation anxiety and/or social hesitation, where they become at apprehensive at leaving a parent or other adult, as well as nervous when playing with others. At this age, many children are not as directly involved with social play and instead prefer functional or relational play, where they much more enjoy a toy or object that has a specific function.

They like to learn from cause and effect. It also helps to know that at such an age children typically play next to each other rather than with one another. This is parallel play as opposed to cooperative play where children work together.

As they become older, and closer to 2 years old, they typically progress to more imitation play and pretend play.

There are some tips and tricks for parents to help encourage them socially. Try to keep a degree of consistency with both the timing, location and peers involved in such social interactions. This allows them to become more adjusted and comfortable to both the environment and their peers. Repeat exposure and persistence is also key. This doesn’t mean you force your child to play or completely leave them, but give them time to become adjusted and enter the play on their own terms.

Get on the same level as the other children and help them calm down to realize it’s okay to be around the other children. If you are ever concerned about the development of your child, please have them evaluated by their pediatrician.

Read more answers by Dr. Gibson