Getting children to choose to play with others, rather than alone, is a problem many parents face. Here are some tips to help you teach your child the vital skills and encourage the desire they need to successfully connect with other kids.
Going to sociable events with your young child can often feel pointless: while you sit chatting with the other parents, you watch how your son/daughter plays by themself the whole time, despite the fact that there are many other children they could play with. You might be worried by such behaviour, especially if you see that other children seem to be making an effort to befriend others, a quality your child appears not to display. For one reason or another, many children simply don’t develop social skills as easily as others and thus don’t know how to navigate the social world and are unable to make the most of opportunities to socialise. Making friends requires certain tools that many children do not intuitively possess (nurture, as much as nature, plays a huge role in our growth and development, after all). It’s your responsibility as a parent to ensure that you “coach” and positively encourage your child to develop the social skills they will need for a lifetime.
Social Coaching Tips
A few weeks ago, I overheard a mother telling a friend at a cafÃ© that her son was “a lost cause” because, no matter how much she tried to get him to do something, he preferred doing something else. The triple shot latte she proceeded to order perhaps indicates that her words were born from exhaustion and frustration, rather than a genuine belief that there was nothing that could be done to teach her son a certain skill, which many parents might understand and even sympathise with. But it’s crucial that you believe in both yourself and your child when it comes to social coaching, as without this your child will likely learn to live up to expectations and not realise their full potential – i.e. if you don’t really believe they are able to play with other children, or that you can teach them to, they will believe the same and are thus likely never to do so.
Now that you believe in both yourself and your child, the following tips and tricks may be helpful in encouraging your child that playing with others is fun. You might not see results right away, but over time your efforts should bear fruit and your child will actively seek out playtime with other excited children.
- Help your child observe games being played amongst friends and how they can join in. For example, if you see two children playing doctor together, you might point them out to your child, explain what they are doing, and ask them what character they could be (a patient, doctor, nurse?) and what they could do to join in the game.
- Approach (potential) friends together with your child. If you ask if your child can join them in what they are doing, they’ll likely agree with you since you’re an adult. Remember to stay with your child for a short while to help them integrate into the game being played, perhaps even showing them what to do. This will build your child’s confidence and reduce any anxiety they might harbour with regards to playing with others or joining already established games/groups. The next time you both walk over to some children, you might prompt your child to ask themselves if they can play with them.
- Do your best to point out common interests/likes among the children. Just like you would probably feel most comfortable befriending someone who likes similar things to you, children feel the same. Point out that the other children also love superheroes and enjoy eating chocolate ice cream. By showing your child that other children share their interests, they will feel less cautious about socialising.
- Serve as a bridge of communication and cooperation between the children. For example, you might help them start a LEGO construction, inviting each child to take it in turns to add a piece wherever they choose. Before you know it, together the children have made a collective masterpiece – and you can encourage their excitement over what they have achieved. Suddenly, a game that your child used to play alone has become a cooperative one!
- Gradually move away into the background once interaction is underway. Be observant and recognise when your child feels comfortable communicating and playing with the other children – then step back!
- Give your child lots of (different) opportunities to socialise. There are many different ways your child can meet new friends – 1-on-1 playdates, playgroups and preschool are but a few. By mixing it up and showing your child that he/she is able to socialise in various contexts will further increase his/her confidence and enable him/her to play with others willingly.