Hearing your child say “No one wants to play with me at school” is heart-breaking for any parent. Here are some tips in how to respond if your child says this to you:
1. Be sure to listen (truly listen). Let your child lead the conversation. Ask open-ended questions to keep him talking.
2. Validate your child’s feelings. Try not to make statements, such as “I’m sure everyone wants to play with you,” as this trivializes your child’s experience and makes him think you don’t believe him. Instead, make statements, such as “I’ll bet that feels so sad. Tell me more about this.”
3. Ask your child if he wants some tips about how to approach other kids. It can be helpful to make statements, such as: “I felt that way when I was younger, and someone shared some tips with me. Would you like me to share some with you?” If you do offer suggestions, try to use a kind, judgement-free tone and only give 3 possible suggestions.
*Some children benefit from role-playing this type of situations. It may be helpful to give him statements to say, such as “Hi, can I play?” In role-playing, make sure your child is making eye contact and speaking in an audible tone of voice.
*Remind him that if others are playing a game, it is best to ask to play that game with them instead of switching the game to his one of his choosing.
*Remind him that friends like when we compromise. Practicing letting him make up a rule to a game and then you make up a rule.
*Add anything that you have seen your child struggle with and work extra hard on helping him navigate appropriate behaviors in these situations. For example, if your child throws objects every time he gets frustrated, it may make friends not want to play with him. Work with him to find alternatives to this behavior, such as squeezing his hands instead of throwing objects.
4. Play games around the house and allow your child to practice taking turns, as well as, both winning and losing. Share your own feelings, such as “When you quit the game just because you are losing, it makes the game less fun for me. Can you show me how you can be a good sport and keep playing even when you are not doing well?”
5. Ask his teacher if there is one child in particular who would be more open to playing with him, and encourage your child to approach this specific child.
6. When your child is sad about things that happen at school, work extra hard to build up his self-esteem at home. Remind him of things he is good at doing around the house and spend quality time with him. Try to give undivided attention during these heart-felt conversations.
If your child continues to struggle playing with others at school or does not receive social invites on the weekends, consider enrolling him or her in a social skills group so that your child can practice approaching and playing with peers while receiving feedback from a therapist. Whenever anyone tries a new skill, it’s never perfect the first time (think about the first time you drove a car!) In a social skills group, the therapist and peers in the group will give your child feedback about how to make his interactions more successful. See www.artitout.com for a calendar of social skills groups.