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Playing nicely

Tips for teaching your child to play nicely with others

August 15th, 2018     By Boys Town Contributor

Back-to-School, Early Childhood, Social Skills, Toddlers

Let's be honest, we all want our children to get along perfectly with our friend's children and their playmates. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Children between the ages of 2 to 5 initially have trouble playing well with others and it's very common for some children to not learn how to share until they are 3 or 4. At these ages, children still believe that everything is "mine" and while they may enjoy being together with other children at times, they're often not ready to handle all the newness of relationships. So how can we, as parents, set our children up for success so they can play nicely with others as they continue to age and develop?

Here are some helpful tips for teaching your child to play well with others:

  • Use effective praise when you do see your child playing nicely with others. This includes showing approval, describing the positive behavior, giving a reason why you approve of the behavior, and, if you deem it appropriate and necessary, give them a positive reward.
  • If your child isn't playing well with others, teach positive replacement behavior instead of getting angry or frustrated.
  • Playing with your child yourself can help them understand how to play nicely with others. Let your child choose a game or activity and praise their good behavior or give positive consequences (hugs, kisses, longer playtime) when your child cooperates and shares. Playing "Simon Says" with your child can provide a fun and easy way to teach your child to play with other people and how to follow instructions.
  • Several times a day, have child practice ways to be considerate of others.
  • Teach children how to cooperate and get things in a socially acceptable way. For example, saying "please" and "thank you" instead of grabbing things and running away.
  • Reward good playing behavior by letting her earn fun things when she practices or interacts well with others.
  • Give negative consequences for any bullying behaviors you see your child do. Do this by using a firm, no-nonsense voice tone and don't use any bullying behaviors yourself. Negative consequences can also include taking away a privilege or assigning small chores.  
  • If part of the problem is that your child clings to you instead of playing, along with praise make sure you teach your child what to do when you leave. For example, help him find his favorite toy and ask the sitter to play along.

Children often learn play behaviors by imitating other children and siblings and, eventually, they will begin to share certain objects and learn to cooperate during playtime. Laying down the foundation by using these tips will bring your toddler that much closer to being ready for preschool and extended times playing with other children.

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