My child doesn’t play well with others

It’s natural for young children to have some difficulties when playing with others. They may need some time to learn how to balance their own needs with those of other people.

You can help them understand the importance of friendships and treating others well.

Help them manage emotions

Your child may be struggling to express an emotion. Take time to understand what could be behind their behaviour. Knowing this can help you see what support they need.

Give your child the tools to help them express what it is they need and feel more calm. You can:

Give them opportunities to practise

Help create moments for your child to build their social skills and make friends. You can also use imaginary or small-world play to help them build understanding. If you’re using toys, try questions like:

  • “Which animals are friends?”
  • “How is tiger a good friend to elephant?”
  • “How could lion say sorry to crocodile?”

This helps your child think about what would be an appropriate response.

Show them how to be a good friend

Show your child the type of behaviour you’d like to see through your own actions. Let them see you behaving in a positive way with others.

When you notice them being a good friend, praise them for it. Point out why it’s important. You could say something like, “Look how happy you made your friend when you were kind.” You can also read our advice on teaching your child to share or dealing with hitting or biting.

Help them when they get stuck

We expect children to say sorry. But if your child feels guilt, sadness or shame they may refuse to apologise. Try not to force them – instead, show them what a good apology looks like.

Say something like “I know it can be hard to find the right words to say sorry. Shall I try for you?”  When they nod or agree, give them an example of a good apology, and next time they may feel more confident.

Let them make mistakes

If you notice your child isn’t playing well with others, resist the urge to correct them straight away. Children will often tell each other and will be able to fix the situation themselves. If the issue continues, help your child understand how their actions are making others feel. Ask gentle questions like “How do you think they felt when you took the ball? What could you do now?”

Use stories to help them learn

Explore stories about friendship and kindness with your child. Use them as starting points for discussions about how to be a good friend.

If you need support

If you have concerns about your child’s social development, speak to their nursery or school. Ask for their thoughts on your child’s behaviour. They may put some support in place to help with these skills.

You can also contact you GP to talk through any worries you have. Or find out more about early social development stages on the NCT website.

Want more support? For advice on your specific issue, speak to one of our parenting coaches.  

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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