Why does my child prefer to play alone?

Q: My 2-year-old likes to play alone when other kids are around. Why? 

A: It’s normal for a 2-year-old to engage in solitary play. Solitary play is the first stage of play development.

Children will explore learning and interacting with toys on their own or with caregivers, and at their own pace.

They’re like little scientists at this stage, truly trying to understand the world around them.

The next stage of play development is parallel play.

In parallel play, kids are still playing and learning about the world on their own, but often near other kids doing the same activity.

Though they don’t cooperatively play together, they’re definitely learning from one another. They’ll watch each other and mimic skills.

The next stage, associative play, is an extension beyond parallel play in which there’s more engagement in the other child’s activity, such as sharing toys and ideas. This sharing, however, is yet another way kids advance their own individual playing.

The final stage of play development is cooperative play in which kids truly have one joint focus such as a toy, or a game, or an imaginary idea, that they’re sharing or contributing toward together.

This developmental progress for play isn’t bound by specific ages.

Challenges between kids, and subsequently angst for parents, can arise when kids are at different stages of development.

But be patient, recognize the normal developmental pattern, and continue to expose your children to other kids to promote their development over time.

Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota