When Play Isn’t Easy: Understanding Your Child’s Social Play Difficulties 

Play is so much more than just fun and games. It’s a vital part of how your child develops crucial life skills – from learning how to share and take turns to developing their own unique way of thinking.  
But what if your child seems a bit hesitant to jump into the mix with others during playtime? It’s natural for you, as a parent or caregiver, to feel concerned. Observing how your child plays with others can offer important clues about their social skills and emotional resilience. Recognising any challenges early on is key, as it opens the door to supportive strategies that can truly help your child flourish socially. 

Recognising the signs of children’s struggle with play is important for all parents

Recognising the Signs 

The first step towards helping your child who struggles with social play is identifying the signs. Here are key indicators that your child might be having difficulty engaging with peers: 

  • Withdrawal from Group Activities: If your child often chooses to play alone or stays on the sidelines during group activities, it may indicate discomfort or difficulty with social interaction.
  • Difficulty Making Friends: If your child has trouble making or keeping friends, or seems to have no interest in other children, it might suggest difficulties with the social skills needed for forming friendships. 
  • Reluctance to Attend Social Gatherings: Notice if your child seems anxious or upset about the idea of going to birthday parties, playdates, or other social events where interaction with peers is expected. 
  • Disruptive Behaviours: Sometimes, children who find it hard to engage socially might display disruptive behaviours as a form of communication. This can include interrupting games, snatching toys, or even aggression. 
  • Over-reliance on Adults: If your child constantly seeks the safety of adult interaction or supervision during playtimes, they may feel unsure about how to approach or play with other children. 
  • Emotional Distress: Signs of sadness, frustration, or anger during or after playtimes can indicate that your child is struggling with the social dynamics of play. 
The first step towards helping your child who struggles with social play is identifying the signs.

Early Intervention is Key

Recognising these signs early allows you to seek the appropriate support. Early intervention is crucial because it lays the groundwork for developing essential social skills that children use throughout their lives. Here’s how you can support your child: 

  • Consult with Professionals: If you notice persistent signs of social difficulties, consider consulting with a child psychologist, speech pathologist, or occupational therapist. These professionals can provide tailored strategies that address the specific challenges your child faces.
  • Encourage Small Group Interactions: Start with small, manageable play settings that can help your child feel less overwhelmed. Playdates with just one or two familiar peers can be a good beginning. 
  • Role-play and Practice: At home, you can engage in role-playing games to practice greetings, conversations, and turn-taking. These safe, rehearsed interactions can build confidence and skills. 
  • Positive Reinforcements: Celebrate small successes and offer positive reinforcement for any social effort your child makes, such as sharing a toy or playing a game cooperatively. 
  • Create Inclusive Play Opportunities: Work with educators and caregivers to ensure play opportunities are inclusive and considerate of your child’s pace and style of socialising. 
  • Seek Resources: Many books and tools are designed to teach social skills through stories and activities. Ask your allied health professional for recommendations tailored to your child’s age and needs. 
Two children with good play skills sharing toys and smiling.

Need Help for Your Child? 

Difficulties in social play are not uncommon, and with the right support, your child can overcome play challenges. If you’re noticing signs that your child might be struggling with social play, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.  
At Kids First, our multidisciplinary team is here to support you with a range of services from speech pathology to psychology, all aimed at boosting your child’s social skills in a nurturing environment.  
Together, we can provide the guidance and interventions needed to help your child thrive in the playground and beyond.  

Follow this link or contact our team today on 9938 5419 to discover how mobile therapy can support your child. 

Contact Kids First for details of Early Intervention and NDIS Support for children

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