Parallel Play

While play and activities involving open-ended play are often looked over as being frivolous or distracting for the child, these activities are integral to their development process. 

Especially during the early childhood development process, play is one of the major mediums of learning for children. 

For the initial six years of their lives, children are highly susceptible to stimuli present in the surrounding environment and often experience drastic developmental changes. 

With all the different terminologies and buzzwords surrounding the early stages of development in children, it can be hard to keep track as a parent or an immediate caregiver. 

But just like different stages of development, children also pass through different stages of play which manifest in children at different ages.

Noticing your child playing alongside their peers without direct interaction or communication can often make parents worry. 

This type of play or stage of play is referred to as Parallel Play, where the children play adjacent to each other, but do not influence each other’s behavior. 

The lack of social interactions displayed by the child during the parallel stage of play may concern some parents, it is important to note that this stage is a great transition for the forthcoming stages. 

If you are a parent or an immediate caregiver who wants to facilitate the optimum development of your child, look no further. 

Here is everything you should know about Parallel Play to provide your child with the right opportunities and tools for their development.

How many different stages of play are there?

The concept of different stages of play was developed by an American sociologist and a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, Mildred Parten Newhall

In Parten’s doctoral dissertation (1929) she mentioned that there are in total six different stages of play in early childhood development. 

The six stages of play in the early childhood development process are delineated below:

  • Unoccupied Play (birth to 3 months)
  • Solitary Play (birth to 2 years)
  • Onlooker or spectator behavior (2 years)
  • Parallel Play (2 to 3 years)
  • Associate Play ( 3 to 4 years)
  • Cooperative Play (4 to 6 years)

What is Parallel Play?

According to Mildred Parten Newhall, the stage of Parallel Play in children manifests as among the first three stages of development. 

Parallel play is a form of play or a stage of play in early childhood development where the child shows higher interest as well as focus on an activity, rather than their peers. 

During this stage of play, the child may be sitting right next to or adjacent to their peer but will not directly communicate or interact with them. 

While children are playing alone during the Parallel Play stage, they show interest in what the other children are doing. 

Although the child shows interest in the activities others are partaking in, they do not get influenced by others’ behavior. 

When partaking in Parallel play you may witness your child mimicking or observing other children.

What is the typical age for Parallel Play?

Parallel Play often involves two or more children who interact with the same toys or indulge in the same play activities usually observing or mimicking each other’s behavior. 

The main focus of the child during this stage is on the play activity or toy rather than interacting or socializing with their peers. 

The Parallel Play stage ideally manifests in children after their first birthday.

The Parallel play stage commonly starts in children between the ages of 2 to 3 years when they mimic other children instead of playing with them.

Are the Solitary stage of play and Parallel Play different?

While most parents can mistake Solitary play and Parallel Play to be the same, they have significant differences that set them apart. 

During the solitary stage of play, the child prefers to partake in play activities completely alone. 

While during the Parallel Play stage, the child is often in the company of two or more children while partaking in the same activity.

What are the chief characteristics of Parallel Play?

During the early childhood stages of development or toddlerhood, pretend play is among the most common play activities of choice. 

It is important to keep track of the child’s development process by keeping a vigilant eye on their behavior, social skills, as well as activities they partake in. 

Parallel play is a common stage of play during the early childhood phase where the child plays adjacent to other peers but does not directly interact with them. 

Although unconventional, Parallel play is common among toddlers and acts as an effective transitional state for forthcoming stages of play. 

To help you develop an understanding of Parallel Play, here are some chief characteristics of this stage of play in children:

Playing side-by-side with peers:

While the first stages of play like the unoccupied stage of play and the solitary stage of play involves the child playing alone. 

These stages of play mostly incorporate sensory play and sensory development in children. 

But after 18 months the child begins to establish new social skills and often becomes interested in what other children are doing. 

Parallel play is a stage of play during early childhood development where the child prefers playing next to their peers with limited or no interaction. 

This stage of play is an effective transition between the solitary stage and the cooperative stage of play.


During the Parallel play stage, the child begins to explore new concepts and continues to play independently. 

During this stage traditional educational approaches may aid the child’s development process:

  • Discovering through independent experiences
  • Trial and error 
  • Sensory play 
  • Providing new toys and materials for exploration

Mimicking and Observing:

Parallel play is a stage of play where the child is developing transitional skills for social development. 

They begin to observe, identify, and develop social cues when mimicking as well as observing their peers. 

Parallel play helps children set examples by demonstrating new perspectives to one another.


During the Parallel Play stage, the child often displays egocentric behavior when interacting with other children. 

The child might ignore their peers and become annoyed by the idea of sharing their materials or toys. 

Over time in the later stages of childhood development, the child gradually falls out of the egocentric stage.

Developing social skills:

In the later stages of Parallel play, the child with beginning to develop a new set of social skills for the forthcoming stages:

  • Mimicking their peer’s behavior
  • Acknowledging and giving their peers personal space
  • Developing patience and waiting for their turn

Why is Parallel Play important?

It may initially seem odd to parents when witnessing their children partaking in Parallel play activities.

As unconventional as it may appear, this stage of play is quite integral for the child’s early development process. 

Parallel play promotes your child to learn about social cues, and appropriate behavior when playing with peers. 

Parallel Play acts as a transitional stage between the solitary stage of play and the cooperative stage of play where the child develops age-appropriate social skills.

How can you help your child during the Parallel Play Stage?

While the Parallel Play theory does not blatantly about the role of parents during the Parallel Play activities, you can follow the tricks mentioned below:

  • Provide your child with ample opportunities to play alongside their peers
  • Limit the child play-date interactions to one or two peers at a time during the initial stages
  • Be vigilant when children partake in parallel play and monitor their behavior
  • Make sure to intervene during fights between the children or any emotional outbursts to relieve the tension 
  • Make sure the children are playing in a safe space to prevent injuries or accidents
  • Lastly, never leave children alone and unattended when partaking in parallel play activities