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How to Help When Your Kid's Not Playing Well With Others

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"Does not play well with others." Parents fear hearing this from a teacher. We all want our kids to grow up with a good circle of friends, and playing is key for young children. The good news is that almost all kids struggle to play with others as they negotiate the balance between their desires and that of others. It's normal. And as a parent, you can do plenty of things to help your child learn to play well with others. Check out these tips and your social butterfly will grow his wings in no time!

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By Lisa Medoff

All young children have some difficulty playing with others. It’s natural—they are negotiating the balance between their own desires and those of others. But excessive problems interacting with peers can prevent your child from developing the social skills that are necessary for further development. Here are some strategies to help your child get along with others.

Communicate

Talk to your child’s teacher, and others who take care of her, to ask for advice. Ask for specifics: In what situations does your child have trouble getting along with others? What specific skills does your child need to learn? Follow up every few weeks to find out what kind of progress your child is making and what adjustments are necessary.

Practice

Rehearse the basic skills that your child needs to interact positively with others, like sharing, taking turns and expressing frustration with words instead of through physical means. 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.”

Play and Imagine

Young 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. Use imaginary friends or stuffed animals to act out different scenarios, and help your child role-play situations where friends are not getting along.

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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 she did today and how she can make better choices the next time.

Read Together

Share books with themes such as friendship, cooperation, kindness and getting along with others. 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. Vary the settings (your house, other homes, the park, a child-friendly restaurant) and who the other children are.

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.

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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 did that? 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 you are giving your child lots of positive attention at home. Compliment her when she shares, uses words to get what she wants, or handles a potentially problematic situation in a positive way. 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 teacher and you consider to be extreme for her age, you should consult your pediatrician or a mental health expert. Difficulty getting along with peers can sometimes be indicative of a developmental disorder. The earlier that such disorders are recognized and treated, the better the outcomes will be.

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