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Teaching Children to Play Together

Play is the way that young children learn. There are 3 kinds of play that children need: playing with parents, independent play, and playing with other children. Play teaches children how to get along with each other. Children learn from other children so we need to give them plenty of chances to play and interact among themselves.

Parents need to help young children understand social behavior and how to form good relationships.

  • Try to model the behavior you want your child to learn rather than just talking about it. When you say "please" or lend a helping hand, you are teaching children how you would like them to act.
  • Pay more attention to behaviors you like and less attention to behaviors you don't like. Look for the things the children are doing right and comment on those.
  • Help children learn to control their feelings and think of others. For example, if your child is having a hard time waiting for a turn on the slide, talk about it with her. It is more helpful to say something like, "I know you've been waiting a long time and you're dying for a turn, but you'll need to wait until Billy is done. Maybe you can ride the trike while you're waiting." rather than simply saying, "You have to wait until Billy is done."
  • Show children how to cooperate. Children love it when an adult has a problem and they can help solve it. If the living room needs cleaning up, say, "Let's do this together. This is your room too. Let's get it cleaned up so we can go out for ice cream."
  • Teach children some useful, non-violent ways of getting what they want. Help them bargain with each other, make a trade, or use something together. "I'll pull you in the wagon while you sit in it," or "I'll trade you my blue pen for that red one."

If your child has problems learning to play with other children, here are some ideas that might help.

  • Call another child's parents and invite their child over to your house to play with your child. Tell the parents that you will be supervising the play activity.
  • Have the children play inside. Decide ahead of time how long the play will last, and let the other child's parents know. Don't schedule or plan any other competing activities for yourself. Most of your time will be taken up with the children's playing.
  • Watch the play very closely. Use as much brief, gentle contact (time-in) as you can with your son or daughter whenever he or she is playing nicely.
  • Be prepared to use time-out as quickly as possible for any bad behavior, such as not talking nicely to the other child, refusing to share, or withdrawing from the activity.
  • During your child's time-outs, play with the other child so that she isn't sitting doing nothing while your child is in time-out.
  • The more experience your child gets playing nicely with other children, the easier this will get for you to handle. Continue having these play sessions several times each week.
  • After your child is consistently doing well with one child at a time, you can begin inviting more than one child over. However, don't press your luck. Invite one child at a time until your child is really good at playing with others. Keep watching your child very closely as they play with others.

By teaching your child to play with other children, you help them learn to express their own feelings, empathize with others' feelings, and be cooperative, generous, and kind.

For more information, see

Time-Out Technique

Written by E. Christophersen, PhD, author of "Beyond Discipline: Parenting That Lasts a Lifetime."
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-11-02
Last reviewed: 2006-10-16
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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