Parallel Play in Toddlers – Why it is Important and Top Ways to Encourage It

6 min read

Written by Smita Srivastava

Smita Srivastava

Parallel play is an important part of toddler development

A frequent and fascinating behavior seen in toddlers during their initial stages of development is parallel play. Parallel play in toddlers refers to the stage where they engage in independent play alongside their peers without direct interaction. This form of play may seem solitary, but it plays a crucial role in their social, cognitive, and emotional development.

For parents, family members, and educators, comprehending parallel play is essential because it sheds light on the socialization process and promotes the growth of the toddler’s interactions and abilities.

In This Article

What is Parallel Play?

Parallel play is a typical behavior observed in toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3, where they engage in play alongside their peers but without direct interaction or collaboration. During this stage, children may play near each other, engage in similar activities, and occasionally observe one another, but they do not actively engage in joint play or coordinate their actions.

Instead of interacting with their peers, toddlers focus on their individual play, exploring toys, objects, and their surroundings. They may imitate or mirror each other’s actions, but their play remains independent and self-directed. This behavior is a natural part of their social development as they begin to develop a sense of autonomy and explore their own interests.

It is an important step toward more sophisticated forms of social interaction. As kids grow and develop, they gradually progress to more cooperative and interactive play, forming friendships, and engaging in collaborative activities.

Is Parallel Play Normal For Toddlers?

Yes, parallel play is completely normal and developmentally appropriate for toddlers. It is a stage that most kids go through as they navigate their early social interactions. Toddlers are still learning to be independent and to interact with others, throughout this stage.

Toddlers can play independently while being among other kids through the practice of parallel play. It is crucial to keep in mind that the tiny tots at this age are still developing their social skills and might not yet be able to play cooperatively for an extended period of time.

Why is Parallel Play Important For Toddlers?

Parallel play is important for social, cognitive, and emotional development

Parallel play is important for the social, cognitive, and emotional development of toddlers. Here are some reasons why parallel play holds significance-

1. Helps Develop Independence

Toddlers can play freely and discover their own interests through parallel play. They can select their own activities and participate in self-directed play, which promotes a sense of autonomy.

2. Watching And Learning

Toddlers observe and absorb from other kids during parallel play. They mimic behaviors, language, and actions, broadening their skill set and knowledge base.

3. Aids Social Intelligence

Toddlers learn about their peers’ interests, hobbies, and behaviors as they play in groups with other kids. It lays the platform for fostering social awareness, compassion, and social cue comprehension.

4. Increases Confidence

Toddlers can play in a secure and nonthreatening environment due to parallel play. Their self-esteem and trust in society increases as they study others and become more assured in their own talents.

5. Helps Them Get Ready For Collaborative Play

Prior to engaging with kids in more cooperative kinds of play, there is parallel play. It prepares toddlers for later cooperative play, when they start interacting, collaborating, and engaging with their peers.

Parents, family members, and educators may embrace and encourage parallel play in toddlers to foster positive socialization, self-determination, and general growth.

What is the Benefit of Parallel Play?

Little girls playing alongside each other

Parallel play refers to a type of play where little ones engage in independent activities side by side, without direct interaction or collaboration. While it may seem counterintuitive, parallel play offers several important benefits for a toddler’s social and cognitive development.

Firstly, it allows them to develop their independence and autonomy as they choose their own activities and explore their interests without relying on others for constant stimulation or guidance. It also provides a low-pressure social environment where they can observe and learn from other kids without feeling overwhelmed or obligated to participate actively.

Parallel play fosters a sense of companionship and belonging as toddlers experience a shared space and common interests, even if they are not directly interacting. This type of play encourages self-regulation and concentration as the tiny tots learn to manage their behavior and focus on their chosen activities.

Additionally, parallel play promotes language development as kids may engage in spontaneous conversation or imitate each other’s play actions. Overall, parallel play contributes to the development of crucial social skills, self-confidence, and cognitive abilities in toddlers.

[Read : Speech And Language Development Milestones In Toddlers]

What Skills Are Developed in Parallel Play?

Toddlers learn to share

Parallel play, where toddlers engage in independent activities alongside their peers, helps to develop various important skills, like-

  • Parallel play enhances social skills by providing opportunities for toddlers to observe and imitate others’ actions, learn social norms, and practice basic interaction skills such as taking turns or sharing space. It fosters a sense of companionship and belonging as they experience a shared play environment.
  • Additionally, parallel play promotes cognitive development by stimulating creativity, problem-solving, and imagination as kids engage in independent play and explore their own interests.
  • It also aids in developing language skills as toddlers may engage in spontaneous conversation or mimic each other’s play actions, enhancing vocabulary and communication abilities.
  • Parallel play further enhances self-regulation and concentration as your little one learns to manage their behavior, focus on their chosen activities, and respect the play boundaries of others.

Overall, parallel play plays a vital role in building social, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills, essential for a toddler’s holistic development.

[Read : Developing Social Skills In Your Toddler]

Top 7 Ways to Encourage Your Toddler With Parallel Play

Woman meditating while toddler plays alongside

There are several ways you can support and encourage your toddler’s parallel play. Some of the things you can do to encourage parallel play are-

1. Provide a Conducive Environment

Set up a safe and inviting play area with a variety of age-appropriate toys and activities. This will encourage independent exploration and engagement.

2. Model Parallel Play

Demonstrate parallel play by engaging in your own activities nearby. This allows your toddler to observe and imitate your behavior, fostering their understanding of parallel play.

3. Offer Choices

Provide your toddler with a range of toys and activities to choose from. This helps them develop decision-making skills and encourages independent play.

4. Respect Their Play Space

Allow your toddler to have their own play space without interruption. Avoid directing their play or taking over their activities unless they request your involvement.

5. Encourage Sharing and Taking Turns

Teach your toddler about sharing and taking turns by modeling these behaviors during parallel play. Help them understand the concept of waiting for their turn and sharing toys when appropriate.

6. Provide Social Opportunities

Arrange play dates or outings with other children to expose your toddler to parallel play in a social context. This can help develop their social skills and provide opportunities for interaction.

[Read : 12 Useful Tips For Planning Playdates And Sleepovers]

7. Offer Praise and Positive Reinforcement

Acknowledge and praise your toddler’s independent play efforts. This positive reinforcement encourages their confidence and reinforces the value of parallel play.

Remember that every child develops at their own pace, so be patient and supportive as your toddler explores parallel play.

Parallel play in toddlers is a valuable developmental stage that promotes independence, social skills, cognitive growth, and language development. Embracing and supporting this form of play allows toddlers to explore their interests, learn from their peers, and lay the foundation for future social interactions.


1. Parallel vs. Solitary Play: What’s The Difference?

Parallel play involves kids playing alongside each other without direct interaction, while solitary play refers to little ones playing alone, without any other company. In parallel play, the toddler may be aware of others’ presence and may occasionally observe or imitate them, while solitary play is independent and self-focused.

2. Is it Normal For a 3 Year Old to Parallel Play?

Yes, it is completely normal for a 3-year-old to engage in parallel play. At this stage of development, kids are still learning social skills and may prefer to engage in independent play alongside their peers. Parallel play provides them with opportunities for observation, exploration, and individual growth.

Read Also: Pretend Play in Toddlers – Stages, How to Encourage and Top Ideas

Smita Srivastava, Bachelors (BA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Delhi University
Masters (MA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Kurukshetra University

With a background in Mass media and journalism, Smita comes with rich and vast experience in content creation, curation, and editing. As a mom of a baby girl, she is an excellent candidate for writing and editing parenting and pregnancy content. The content she writes and edits is influenced by her own journey through pregnancy and motherhood. When not writing- She can be found curled up with a book. Or, bingeing on Netflix.Read more.

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