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My 4yr old (Nearly 5) Doesn't Seem Interested In Playing With Other Children

by Janet
(Perth, WA)

For as long as I can remember my daughter has not been interested in playing with other kids. Ive done mother's group, swimming, playgroup and instead of going off and playing, she always wants to be by my side.

My husband works away so everyone said she just has separation anxiety. I would invite friends over for playdates and she would cry and say she doesn't want them coming.

Now she is almost 5 and I have seen a bit of improvement but not much. If we go to the park with school friends she just wants to sit with me, while all the other kids are having a great time. If she does go off and play, its to do her own thing.

When I pick her up from school, all the other kids run off and play and she just wants to go straight home. If it's a birthday party she won't join in at all. The last bit she finally warms up and plays but then its time to leave.

I'm just not sure how to get her to interact more, and as a Mum its so sad when you see other kids having such great fun and forming little friendships. She does have some kids she really likes, but she tell me at home that she is sad coz other friends take them away from her. I try explaining that if she involves herself more, then they can all play together.

Please help!

Comments for My 4yr old (Nearly 5) Doesn't Seem Interested In Playing With Other Children

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Forming Friendships - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Janet,

It is very hard as a parent when we think our children are not forming "normal" friendships or thinking they are missing out on fun.

I suspect your daughter will never be the centre of a big group of friends and is much more of an introvert/observor type of child. She clearly is bonded and attached to you so I would not be worried about any inability to form attachments, I just think she is going to take things very slowly and in her own time.

I would suspect there is more of an issue with feeling pressured to have to join in and not feeling confident. If you back off trying to encourage her and whilst not ignoring her in social situations, put your attention into your friends and chatting. And then observe if you think she is actually UNhappy. She may well be quite happy to observe the others, and wander off and do her own thing. It may well be your issue that she is not having fun because she is not doing what you think she should be in a group of children.

There will always be the quieter children on the fringes, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with her. More that you are making something wrong!

Part Two Follows . . . .

Forming Friendships - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

How We Manage Our Energy

For many of us, group energy is overwhelming and exhausting in a fairly short period of time. If she is an introvert, then school will be a huge effort, so all she wants to do is come home and re-group. Introverts get energised from time out, peace and quiet, or low demand interacting. They do much better one on one than in a group. Extroverts get their energy from being with other people, sparking off each other and a much higher level of excitement. To try to make an introvert be that kind of person, will be scary, exhausting and overwhelming.

A child's birthday party is a full on hyper type experience, she will be struggling to process all the excitement let alone being ready to participate.

You are totally doing all the right things of providing lots of opportunities for socialising and giving her experiences with other children and adults. You didn't say if she relates better to adults?

I am also wondering if she is an only child? Children with siblings have a head start on negotiating their way into friendships. An only child will take a little longer simply because they have not had the practice.

She will also be used to having your undivided attention and her primary person is you. And in fact interacting with parents is all important, you are the one who can help her to process how she feels. Encourage her to talk about how she feels if she is upset with an issue with a little friend, but just be careful you are not making the issues for her! If she feels bad because you expected her to join in the party games or if she didn't want to go and play with the other kids, you will simply compound any difficulty.

So be guided by her needs not yours. If she says the other kids don't want to play with me, then help her to figure out what she could do to encourage some interaction. What kind of games would she like to play with others, who is the child (boy or girl) she might like to do something with?

Part Three Follows . . .

Forming Friendships - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

She will likely be the kind of child that when she does form friendships they will be more likely one on one, and she will have some big learning curves when "her" friends form other attachments.

She will eventually form very deep friendships and will be very sensitive to being hurt. Socialisation with a wide variety of people does help a child to be a bit more robust, to be able to bounce back quicker when they get hurt. But we are all very different, and as a parent it can be so hard to see our child hurting, or scared to join in or thinking they are unhappy.

Low Key Playdates

I think just keep on doing what you are doing, providing opportunities but maybe just let her take things at her own pace. If she has one friend round for a playdate, have an activity planned so the pressure is off her having to be the hostess. Making Pizza, or Playdoh, water play or something they can focus on instead of having to play together.

Don't make the playdates too long, it will be an effort for her and she will need time to get centred again. It is better to have a short successful activity together, even if mostly alongside, than a long period of time where arguments start of she gets overwhelmed. Building up lower key fun times will give her more confidence at interacting. But the emphasis is at her own pace.

Part Four Follows . . .

Forming Friendships - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Learning Through Role Play

Dress-ups, a tea party or role play type games can be a way she gets to practice other ways of interacting and can test out different kinds of roles. You can play with her too, and let her test out other kinds of roles with the person who is the safest for her. Take turns being the boss or the director. You can use teddies or dolls to act out a child being shy, or a bossy full on noisy child etc. She can learn a lot about the perspective of other people through play.

I truly would not be concerned about her - children get loads of interaction with each other at school, and her primary relationships and learning to relate at this age are with family. You are doing a great job giving her opportunities to be around others, but maybe just pull back a bit on trying to pressure her to be more friendly and more extroverted. She will gradually develop more social skills and find little friends she is happy to spend some time with. Your job is to help her deal with things she is unhappy about, not so much to encourage her to be more outgoing and friendly. She needs to learn to honour the part of her than needs quiet time and time alone to re-group. Introverts are often made to feel bad for not being outgoing.

all the best,
Annie D :)

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