When my daughter was still three years old, she was very reserved and she barely got along with other kids. Even if we’d take her to play areas, she would prefer to play by herself as compared to the other kids who made instant friends. While attending preschool, it became more apparent that my daughter was having problems socializing. She was often unhappy during playtimes because she expected the other kids to follow her lead and to obey her every whim. For this, play times would usually end in either frustration or tears.

While some kids don’t seem to have any difficulties making friends, there are a few others who may need gentle pushing before they will slowly begin to mingle. Playing with others is not only fun, but it teaches kids about social rules. They learn how to take turns, wait in line, and they are also able to understand that each child has “equal rights” during play time. Even if you can’t expect long-term friendships to form at this age, preschoolers greatly benefit from early social interaction. If you notice that your child is having problems in getting along with others, provide plenty of opportunities for practice. Social isolation or rejection even at this age may already lead to emotional problems later in life, so act early.

Give your child ample opportunities for positive and rewarding social experiences. Get to know the parents with preschoolers in your area, and try to set a play date. A good start is to invite a friend or two over because your child will feel so much safer when he’s in his own territory. You should never force your child to immediately adjust well with others because doing so will just forfeit the purpose of the play date. Allow him to set his own pace so that he will learn how to approach others the next time around.

Preschoolers have very short attention spans and it will be best for everyone if you limit play times to just an hour or two. If you go beyond that, it may be more challenging to keep the play date conflict- free. Remember that even if battles are inevitable at this age, you need to aim for play times that will begin and end harmoniously. This is to ensure that your preschooler will look forward to more fun times with other children.

Prepare age-appropriate activities so that everyone can participate. The kids can watch their favorite cartoon show, or they can do art and other activities together. Just make sure that you have enough materials for everybody because you certainly want the kids to focus first on getting along rather than sharing. Help boost your child’s confidence by having an activity that he’s good at. Initially, you may need to step in a little just to keep things going smoothly. But when they pick up the pace, learn to step aside. These are the things that your child needs to learn by himself so give him the chance to do just that.

If you sense that your child is already comfortable with his usual play dates, you can progress to inviting more friends and changing venues every now and then. It’s also crucial that you keep communicating with your child regarding his “adventures” with his friends. This will help you gauge whether you need to address certain issues regarding your child’s social skills.

Turn play times into teachable moments. While playing with your preschooler, help him understand the need to cooperate and follow rules. If he is easily frustrated with a particular game, help him deal with his emotions properly. If your child is having problems at school, work closely with his teacher so that he can adjust well with others. You also need to be the best role model for your child. Tag him along when you go to a party or when you spend time with your friends. He will surely learn a thing or two just by seeing you interact with others.

It took plenty of play dates before my daughter was confident enough to hang out with others. And it even took a lot more before those teary play dates ended happily. Now, she’s finally well-adjusted and I no longer have to worry too much whether she’ll be fine in school. If your child went through a similar thing, do you have any other insights?