Thank you for posing this question which will be answered by Jill Wheatcroft
To answer this properly I really need to know the age of your child, if you get a chance please do write back in and I will then answer specifically. For the moment I will focus on children aged one year to three years. They tend to play alongside each other rather than ‘with’ each other if they are one to two years old, this type of interaction is good for them and helps build up their confidence. For one – three years being around other children matters as much at this stage as playing directly with children, it allows them to feel comfortable in the presence of other children. One of the easiest ways to help them build on this interaction is by tapping into local activities such as going to local playgroups, this often leads into longer term friendships as later the children may well attend the same school, so the ‘local’ route plays well geographically too (for your child and for you), it is worth also checking out your local children centre, some run play sessions as well. It may be worth visiting you local borough website to see what is advertised, most boroughs have a family information service which can be useful.
It’s great that you have recognized how much socializing matters. It is important for you to act as an anchor, a safe haven whilst your child is exploring a new environment where other children are present. You may find to start with that they prefer to stay with you even sitting on your lap and just observing other children. If you wave, smile and interact with other children, your child will take this all in and this may well initiate their modeling their behavior on yours. Therefore resist the temptation to just speak with another adult one to one, and not interact with the group at large, show that becoming part of the group is a positive. This is all a bit of a balancing act as pushing a child to do this before they are ready can be counterproductive. No one reads their child better than you, so sense your child’s mood, which can alter week to week, and if they seem apprehensive just stay chilled and let them sit on your lap or stay close to you, when they are ready and curious and a bit bored they will want to get down and get involved in the action with other children. Whether they are close to you or with the other children they will need to be able to easily see you at a glance as that will make them remain secure, allowing them to explore and interact with others.
If you are already aware or concerned that your child is particularly shy before you venture out to the playgroup with a room full of strangers, you might want to organize a one-to-one play date or two with a familiar child.
A bit more about the one-to-one route confidence booster:
If your child is older and you do want to start with the playdate route then you can begin the playdate with a pre-planned specific set activity which encourages both children to get involved, this again will be building towards the group experience such as the local playgroup. Another tip can be for the first part of the play date experience arrange for the other child to come to your home rather than the other way round – do explain to the other parent why. When the other child comes to play encourage your child to show them round, its about empowering them and is a simple but effective confidence booster.
Jill is co-founder of Riverside Cares and Director of Training, she accepts clients for one-to-one consultancy.
Visit our Parenting Hub http://www.riversidecares.co.uk/parenting-hub/ for sessions, suggestions, opportunities to learn paediatric first aid life saving skills and our events page http://www.riversidecares.co.uk/events/ for pop ups and know how sessions around London. Riverside Cares trains professional childcarers and supplies at home care and nursery staff to early years settings
Join us on April 20 at Stepney City Farm for a very special morning (info on our events page)