One of the hardest things as a parent is watching your child desperately attempting to make friends and failing. It can happen for any number of reasons. The child may be shy. The other kids may already be paired off with siblings. Your child may be a bit overwhelming and loud and may frighten off the other kids. I cannot express how many times I saw my son attempt to join a group of already playing kids and fail to integrate. Sometimes he would feel sad and say “I don’t have any friends”. Other times he wouldn’t even notice the rejection and we’d leave the park with him saying how many new friends he had made and what a great time he had. The latter was great, the former scenario was discouraging.
As an only child and a shy child to boot, this was sometimes also a problem for me. I had the kind of parents who seemed to enjoy playing with me (never have asked them if that is true or just my perspective) but sometimes I just wanted a friend to play with.
Bring a Shared Activity
You have to be in the “sharing age” for this to work. Bring a bouncy ball, a box of sidewalk chalk or a container of balloons and your kid will instantly attract the attention of others at the park. Everyone will want to play and you’ll suddenly find your child surrounded by a lot of friends. The bonus is that these items are relatively inexpensive so if they get lost, broken, or it’s just too much trouble to pry them away when it’s time to head home – you’re only out a few dollars at the most. I don’t suggest bringing a HUGE container of sidewalk chalk because 1) half of them will get broken 2) its better to bring a few and force the “sharing” and collaboration aspect. Get those kids talking!
Revisit the Same Park
Rentschler Forest is our home park. We go to that playground several times per week at the same time of day and often, we see the same families at play. This is great because it’s a “play date” without the work and obligation. My son will often remark “Hey! We saw you last week!” even if it was just two days ago.
Everything is “last week” for him.
One of the problems my son faced was his intensity. He’s a boy with a lot of love, a lot of energy, and a lot of spirit. He’d often approach a group of kids and loudly exclaim “Lets play” while paying no mind to whatever game they were already well-established in. He’s just short of 4 – so it’s not totally abnormal – but it still caused him a struggle.
To work on this, we began to roleplay these scenarios out. Casually. It doesn’t have to be one of those ridiculous roleplays that you have to do during employee orientations (gag!). While on the way to the park – I’d ask “Hey bud, when you see kids you want to play with, what should you do?” and he’d answer. I’d take what he said and simply amend it “That’s great! But why don’t you try introducing yourself first? Say, ‘Hi! Im Rafa. May I play with you?'”
Now when we go to the park, my son never goes without a friend. He’s constantly enjoying the company of other kids. In fact – when a car pulls up at the playground – he’s the first to exclaim “Look mommy! More friends” and invite them to play.