Dear TinySprouts®: "What Do I Do When My Child Asks Other Kids to Play, and They Say No"
Updated: Mar 1
"I want to know how I can best respond to my 5-year old daughter when she asks other kids if they want to play with her and they say no.
When we're in playgrounds she will often say, "No one wants to play with me." I'd ask her if she's asked other kids to play.
She’s great at approaching kids after I suggest she asks them to play, but she often gets a no in response when she does ask them.
I’ve noticed the question she asks them is, “Do you want to play with me?” Should I encourage her to word this question in a different way?
I also find myself saying things to reassure her when she’s upset because other children have said no. I feel like reassurance by itself is doing her a disservice in terms of developing resilience. I’d really appreciate suggestions on what I could say to build her resilience and self-confidence rather than simply offering her comfort and reassurance."
Ever since the pandemic with all the stay-at-home orders, kids were robbed of the opportunities to play and socialize with other children, at school, in the neighborhood, and at playdates. More than a year of social distancing has put a toll on children's communication and socialization skills. Not knowing how to "play" with others has apparently become quite an issue for children. So here as parents and educators, we must help them refresh and re-learn how to have appropriate social interactions.
First, sit her down and recount the scenarios she's encountered and dissect with her what she finds enticing about playing with others.
- Is she interested in the play itself?
- Does she just want a companion to do things together?
- Does she want to join the existing play?
- Or does she want to invite others to join in her play?
By understanding her mindset, different approaches can be taken.
If she's interested in making a friend, start with a friendly gesture by making eye contact, showing a smile, waving her hand, and saying “Hi, I’m Lola. What’s your name?” And instead of saying, "Do you want to play with me?" Ask, "Can I play with you?" This approach is better received because other kids would not assume that the new child wanted to interrupt and play something different.
If her intent is to invite others to join her play, sometimes "do you want to play with me" might translate to "do you want me to set the game and call the shots" to the other kid. Therefore, instead of asking to “play,” she can ask them to do something specific “Want to go down the slide?” or “Did you see this cool thing over here?” Encourage your child to make a suggestion on what they were going to play, like “do you want to play tag with me."
If she'd like to join the existing play, encourage the child to observe the play first and slowly integrate into their play by:
- Being HELPFUL: “Do you need this?” or "Where does this go?" (handing over a leaf or a block, for example) or
- Being CURIOUS: “So what do you do after that?” "What other pieces do you need to build that?" or
- Being COMPLIMENTARY: “Oh wow, that’s a cool way to make that!” "You make a nice hole there." or
- Being EXCITED: “Cool! How do you do that?”
- Being RELATEABLE: "My brother and I made a castle like that once."
Reassuring her builds her confidence so it's definitely not hindering her resilience. In my opinion, by being in tune with her and acknowledging but comforting her you are helping her to be well adjusted and happy. I think it's really hard at 4 because they're so you g and many children are shy. I tend to say "why don't you play near them or give them a smile - maybe they're shy." It's an easier way in maybe than a question. To be honest, she's probably just asking shy kids, eventually she'll start finding children a little more outgoing like her who do want to play. Encouraging her not to give up and to just keep smiling at the other children is probably what I would do.
I remember feeling awkward being approached by strangers who directly said, “Hi, my name is XYZ. I’d like to be your friend.” It felt a little intrusive from a personal boundaries perspective.
Resilience is an amazing thing, reminding her that others' choices are their own and are not a reflection of her. While encouraging her to try again approaching other kids offers more support than you realize.
Our multi-award winning board game Empower Empathy target these very issues of socialization and communication skills. In playing the board game, children and adults get to practice on how to observe the circumstances they're in, tap into the emotions that are at play, and assess what could be done that is socially appropriate. Our tool kit includes a guidebook for parents as well as a board game to teach and practice this very important life skill.
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