Wednesday, November 2, 2011
How can I encourage my child to play with other children?
Some children are naturally drawn to other children. They thrive on the energy of people around and even at times act out when they do not get the interaction. Other children prefer to be alone in their play. This is natural and nothing to be concerned about. After all, adults are the same way. Some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts. However, it is important for our children to learn to play with other children to some degree. After all this “play” will teach the child to “work” with other adults as they grow. The Lego tower that is built today may become the skyscraper of tomorrow. The compromising, accepting and collaborating tools that children learn by playing are invaluable to them as adults.
For those children that do not thrive on the energy other children bring, there is a level of persuading that might need to be done. Most lessons can be learned by children through a model. That is where you can start. During your play time with your child, work on modeling these actions. Don’t just tell your child what to do, but collaborate with him. Ask questions that will lead him to the right answers, let him make mistakes in what he is doing. Don’t just give in and “do” whatever he wants to do, but work with him to negotiate. Make it clear that there are some events that happen in the play time that you are not completely pleased with, but that you are willing to accept these things and move on.
The next step comes in groups of children. Begin by playing with your child as he plays with others. Avoid phrases like” go play with them” or “why don’t you want to play with them?” Instead use phrases like “Let’s go see what those kids are doing,” “I wonder if she wants some help with that?” and “He looks like he might want someone to swing with.” Go over to the group with your child and sit down. He might need some direction like “maybe you could help him fill up his pail with sand” or “what if you helped him climb up the ladder?”
These phrases will make your child think and imagine what it would be like to engage with other children. As your child begins to interact don’t immediately walk away. He might suddenly get nervous and come to you for more guidance. If your child expresses fear of playing with the other children, validate the feeling. You can even talk about how sometimes you are nervous to talk to other grownups too. “Sometimes I get afraid of talking and working with people I don’t know, too. It is hard to be brave enough to play with someone you don’t know. You might wonder sometimes if they will like you or what you say. But I believe you are brave enough to do it. And if you don’t like playing with them after a while, you can always go play by yourself again.”
Don’t push your child into it. This will only cause him to try and run. Be present in the play as long as your child needs you to. Express your understanding of the fear but also your trust in his ability to learn to play with others. By doing this consistently your child will have the courage to play with new people and eventually will not need you by his side.
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