Q. My son is a bright, happy 2-year-old with a generally good disposition and exceptional verbal skills. He is also outgoing and talkative among adults -- even strangers -- and acts beautifully with adult visitors. But he is miserable around other children.

Although he is the only child of a stay-at-home mother, he has been in close-knit play groups with six or seven kids several times a week since he was a few months old and has occasional one-on-one play dates, classes and other social activities.

Invariably, he becomes whiny and then angry in these groups, particularly when he's compelled to share a toy or play closely alongside another child, and he often backs away warily when a child tries to hand him something or hug him. In no time at all he is begging to leave or throwing a toy and hitting me, until I'm forced to take him home. This upsets me very much.

He also gets upset when he can't explore his friends' houses freely or investigate the classroom cupboards, and when we host a play group at home, he begs to go upstairs and play alone in his room while our guests and I stay downstairs.

My son isn't hungry or tired in these situations, but he may be bored. The problem is always worse when the toys don't interest him.

I know sharing and playing together don't come naturally at this tender age, but I see his peers are starting to play side by side, to imitate each other and even to hold hands.

I'm afraid that my son will become an outsider. He's scheduled to start preschool soon and I'm worried that he will be miserable in this group setting.

A. Your son is 2 years old, not 12.

And if he's like most 2-year-olds, he is probably a jolly, slightly goofy fellow whose energy level cycles up and down all day long.

First he goes at top speed for a half-hour or so, then he looks at a book or he collapses in a heap to catch a nap or get some snuggles. Or -- if he's super tired or super hungry -- he has a tantrum. And then, just when your patience is paper-thin, he suddenly hits top speed again.

This behavior is perfectly normal, reflecting the up-and-down energy level of the average 2-year-old.

Not all children have the same amount of energy, however, and your boy may have less than most.

Although a few young children are ready for a busy social life at this age, several play groups a week, plus classes, play dates and social activities are way too much action for your little boy.

This may be particularly true if he is young for his age or smaller than the other children, or if he gets overstimulated when he's around children who are much more active than he is.

It's time to reduce your son's activities to one play group, one or two play dates a week and maybe one music or art class, because that is about all most 2-year-olds can handle.

This cutback may seem extreme to you, since your little boy is so comfortable around adults, but adults treat children differently than children treat each other. They not only defer to them more often, adults also are usually calmer, more predictable and more indulgent than children and they almost never encourage rough-and-tumble play.

Your son's preference for adults rather than children tells you that he wants your quiet attention more than your well-planned activities. Waltz around the room with him, read poetry to him, bake banana bread together, give a tea party for him and his teddy bear, teach him to draw in the air with his outstretched arms. He will be able to see his picture, even if you can't.

These and other quiet little activities will help him get ready for preschool, but if he's miserable with his classmates, or with his playgroup, then let him take a break from them for a while.

A child is not a tulip. You can't force him to bloom before he's ready.

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