Q. We have two daughters, ages 6 and 11; there are two girls on our street who are the same ages as our kids, but the older child doesn’t often play with my older daughter. How common is it for children to exclude a playmate? What can I do to make this better?
A. Unfortunately, exclusion is quite common. This behavior often begins in preschool-aged children who sometimes prefer to play in pairs. Young children might also leave out a third child to avoid sharing toys with another or with someone who might not share with them. Boys and girls sometimes exclude the opposite sex when playing in groups; exclusion by gender seems like a normal course of events up to a certain age. Even adults do it occasionally!
There’s often a reason children exclude others. You could ask the neighbor directly about why she doesn’t like to play with your older daughter, or you might check with her mother. Sometimes you can figure it out by watching the children play – some play involves controlling behavior, such as one child playing the teacher or mother and the rest being students or children. Some may change the game rules to facilitate the exclusion of others. Sometimes aggressive behavior is the catalyst for being left out of play.
Here are some the things you could try to make the situation better:
1. Talk to both your children for their take on what is going on and what might make this situation better. Discuss exclusion and how this makes people feel.
2. Invite other children to play with your excluded child. Help her make some new friends; maybe both your girls could benefit from some new playmates. You want to avoid your youngest daughter modeling the exclusion she’s seen with your oldest.
3. Invite the mother of the two neighbor girls over for coffee or tea while the girls play. Talk to the other mother about the situation and ask for her insight and ideas for dealing with the situation.
4. Keep both your children, especially the excluded child, busy with activities and sports to excel and build self-esteem.
5. Consider your child’s rejection by a playmate a learning experience; bearing rejection and learning to cope in a healthy way is important.
Excluding others can make a child feel powerful and is best combated by teaching/modeling kindness, respect and empathy for others. It doesn’t mean a child is “bad,” she may simply not realize how her behavior affects others. Good luck helping all of the children learn to play well together!
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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