So… You’ve planned this fantastic play date with a lovely mom and her cute kid. The house is clean, the snacks are prepared, and you have a bunch of your kid’s favorite movies on hand. Your child will be preoccupied and you get to spend a couple of hours with a fantastic new friend. All is well, except for one problem. When your guests arrive, your child is having NO PART of this play date. She just doesn’t want to play with your friend’s child. What should you do? Do you force her to play or do you just let it go?
My kids and I visit the playground a lot. And even when we’re not at the playground, we have other activities that keep them (and me) busy. This means that we’re constantly meeting new people. Sometimes, the people that we meet are great and sometimes, the people that we meet are - well, interesting. But every day is a chance to have fun with new and old friends alike.
I teach my children to be social and polite but there have been times when my children just didn’t connect with another child. Over time I have learned not to force the issue when my children don’t want to play with other kids. And here are the reasons why:
- I trust my kids’ instincts. My children are people - not just miniature versions of me. And just like all people, they have preferences, likes and dislikes. Always pushing your own desires onto your children isn’t the most productive move. Of course there are times when this has to be done for their safety and well-being, but sometimes we can trust our kids to make their own decisions. For example, a woman that I know has a nine-year-old son. One day, her son suddenly came inside after playing outside for a while and announced that he didn’t want to play with a neighborhood child anymore. When his mother asked him why, he told her all about some of the dangerous things the other child was doing. His mother was relieved that her son had the good judgment to come inside. However, had his mother responded with something like, “No, you should be friends with Joseph. He’s such a great kid and I’m friends with his mom,” then she may have unknowingly set him up for some difficulties. Sure, you want to encourage your child to be friendly and to not stereotype other kids. But it’s also important to trust your kids’ judgment - and if they feel really strongly about not playing with a particular child, don’t force them. And if their first thoughts were wrong, don’t worry – they’ll figure it out.
- I want to teach them not to cave into peer pressure. When we constantly force our children to do things our way, then we’re not giving them the opportunity to develop their own identity. I want my children to be confident enough to say “no” to peer pressure in the future so I’ve started giving them appropriate choices early on. If my little girl or boy doesn’t want to play with a particular child, then it’s okay. Of course, we’ll talk about it later to make sure their reason is sound, but I don’t force them. In the case of the playdate, I would bring out the snacks and sit back to see if my child warmed up to the other child. If not, the playdate could always be cut short or we could head to the nearest playground where there are other kids that they can both play with.
- Some kids are just introverts and don’t enjoy a lot of social activity. You should respect your child’s personality and not try to force them to participate in a lot of social activity. If you do, it will only cause them anxiety. Instead, let your child gradually connect with others. I’m not saying to never expose your child to social settings. I am just saying to let him/her go at their own pace.
I know that sometimes you want to avoid discomfort by making your kids play with other children, especially if they are the kids of new-found friends. However, this probably isn’t always the way to go. Sometimes it’s best to sit back and let your children navigate their social arena themselves. Yes, give support and guidance when needed, but don’t force them to play with others.