When Your Preschool Child Struggles to Play With Others
- 13 Ways to Conquer Preschool Power Struggles
- Play and Social-Emotional Development
- Social Graces: What to Expect in Preschool
- A Preschool Behavior Survival Guide
- Bullying in Preschool: What Parents Need to Know
- How to Cope with Preschool Nightmares
As children move through the preschool years, they begin to feel more comfortable with and enjoy the company of other children. They play more cooperatively every year and can play group games that are loosely organized and have very basic rules. However, all preschool children will have some difficulty playing with other children because they are testing out the rules of social interaction. Your two-year-old tested your limits by saying “No” to you a few years ago, and had to learn the rules of his relationship with you; now your four- or five-year-old must learn the limits and rules of interacting with other children.
Difficulty playing with others can be a good sign—it means that your child is practicing negotiating the balance between his desires and those of others within a social situation. However, while some important learning will take place just by your child seeing the reactions of others to his behavior, he will also need your support in terms of practicing the skills that are needed, such as listening to others, understanding their reactions, and adjusting his behavior as needed.
It is important for you to pay attention to the difficulty your child is having with others; excessive problems interacting with other children can prevent your child from developing the social skills that are necessary for further social and cognitive development, and constant exclusion from friendship groups may harm your child’s self-esteem.
By the late preschool years, children feel good about following rules, enjoy having responsibility for small, manageable tasks, and are capable of a small amount of self-criticism, which means that they can look at their own behavior and understand if they did the right thing or not. Therefore, it is helpful to discuss some of the basic “rules” of friendship and talk to children about making good choices about following those rules. When you pick your child up from a social situation, talk about whether he made good choices today. If he made some bad choices, remind him that he can make a better choice tomorrow. Want more ideas? Here are more strategies to help preschoolers get along with others.
- Communicate. Talk to your child’s preschool teacher (and other adults who take care of your child) to ask for advice. Ask for specifics —in what particular situations does your child have trouble getting along with others? What specific skills do you need to practice with your child? Follow up every few weeks with the teacher to find out what kind of progress your child is making, and what adjustments are necessary. Try not to get defensive when the person offers suggestions: they are not criticizing your child or your parenting skills, they are simply offering you more tools to help in the very difficult job of raising a child.
- Practice. Rehearse the basic skills that your child needs to interact positively with others. These skills include sharing, taking turns, and expressing frustration with words instead of through physical means. Take every opportunity that you can to practice these skills with your child, from playing board games to sharing food at the dinner table. Practice asking simple questions, such as, “Can I play with you?” or “Do you want to read this book with me?” and how to respond if the other person says, “No.” Help your child understand how to deal with rejection by saying, “Okay, maybe another time,” and finding something else to do.
- Play and Imagine. Between the ages of 3-5, children become very interested in fantasy play and imaginary friends. Try to use these interests to help your child role-play different situations where friends are not getting along and to think about what might help the friends get along better. Use imaginary friends or stuffed animals to act out different scenarios. Have your child play the role of child who he is having difficulty with, and you play your child. Then switch places. Preschool children have short attention spans and are very concrete thinkers, so long lectures about getting along with others will not be as effective as role-playing.
- Draw. Sketch some pictures with your child that show someone being a good friend and other pictures that show someone being a bad friend. Hang these pictures up in your child’s room and use them at night to talk about what you child did today and how he can make better choices the next time.
- Read Together. Share books with themes such as friendship, cooperation, getting along with others, and kindness. Talk to your child about how she thinks the characters feel, and what they are doing or saying that might make their friends feel good or bad.
- Create Opportunities. The more opportunities that your child has to practice getting along with others, the better her social skills will be. Arrange a variety of opportunities for your child to interact with others, both in small groups and one-on-one. Make sure to vary the setting (your house, other homes, the park, a child-friendly restaurant) and who the other children are. Sometimes children have difficulty playing with others because they are nervous or insecure, so prepare your child ahead of time by letting her know what to expect and practicing some of the skills she might need in this situation.
- Look in the Mirror. Look at your own behavior to see what your child is picking up on. Make sure that you are modeling behavior that shows you getting along with others and treating others with respect, including everyone from your own family and friends to service people at restaurants and the grocery store. Point out any time you see others being friendly, sharing, or being cooperative. Tell your child how much you admire that behavior.
- Allow Space. If you witness your child acting inappropriately with other children, resist the urge to jump in right away. Let the other children correct her first. If the problems continue, then you can step in and ask, “How do you think it made Sarah feel when you ...? What could you have done instead?” Let her think about her response before you offer suggestions.
- Give Positive Feedback. Sometimes acting out with friends can simply be a way for children to get attention. Make sure that you are giving your child lots of positive attention at home. Look for times when your child shares, uses words to get what she wants, or handles a potentially problematic situation in positive way, and give lots her lots of attention for doing so. Point out exactly what she did right and how good it must feel to have done so.
If your child continues to have problems with other children that both the preschool teacher and you consider to be extreme for his age, it is very important that you consult your pediatrician or a mental health expert. Sometimes extreme difficulty getting along with peers can be indicative of a developmental disorder. The earlier that such disorders are recognized and treated, the better the outcomes will be.
Today on Education.com
Add your own comment
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working
- Bullying in Schools
- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
- Steps in the IEP Process