“Nobody wants to play with me”

It’s hard when your child comes home and says, “Nobody would play with me today”. It’s even harder to know what to do. Before rushing into action, beware the buttons it might push from your own childhood. If there are painful memories lurking, they can make it hard to see your child’s situation for what it is.

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Be clear about what actually happened. Is your child confused between a feeling of being excluded, and an actual exclusion? Some investigation with the teacher may help. Without interrogating or sounding too stressed, ask your child what happened to make them feel not included. Also ask about your child’s words and actions, as they may be an important part of the puzzle.

Sensitive children are especially prone to this complaint. They tend to move slower and more deliberately than others, wait to be invited into a game rather than assume they are welcome, and spend longer waiting, observing, and deciding about how to proceed.

At lunchtime, this can create a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions for being left out. Often they have only just opened their lunchbox when the bell rings, because they waited till the rush in the corridor had died down before going in. Then they had to find the perfect spot to sit – meanwhile, most children are wolfing down their lunches and then racing off in groups to play their favourite games once the bell rings.

They don’t deliberately exclude the sensitive child, they just literally leave them behind. When the sensitive child does make it over to the edge of the play, they might look uncertain or uncomfortable as they wait their turn to be involved, not realising that the rest of the kids expect them to just join in the fun.

Help your child by pointing out why others behave the way they do. Being able to make positive attributions towards others’ behaviour is a skill for life that has all sorts of positive mental health benefits. If your child’s go-to assumption is, “I guess they don’t want me around,” teach them that sometimes we need to argue with our own thinking.

Some helpful self-talk to counter the glass half-empty approach might be – “Maybe they just need to get to know me better,” or, “There’s no reason I wouldn’t be welcome here – I might be imagining it.” If this is a recurring problem for your child, or they are very distressed about it, do talk to their teacher and find out how they can help.

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