Learn to play with others

Learn to play with others
How can I help my child learn to play with others ?

Learning to play with others is a big step for a child. To connect with other kids, they need a bit of guidance. Here’s a look at how to give your child the support they need.

Budding social skills

Learning to play well with others is no easy feat for a young child. To get there, children need to develop certain social skills, meaning attitudes and behaviours that will help them get along with others.

Children don’t become socially adept overnight. They develop social skills over time, through day-to-day interactions.

In particular, they must learn to do the following:

  • Start a conversation (e.g., say hello, introduce themself, ask to join a game)
  • Express their wants (e.g., “I feel like running”)
  • Take turns
  • Share
  • Ask for help to resolve conflicts
  • Articulate their emotions (put their feelings into words)

As a child’s language skills improve, it gets easier for them to connect with others and say how they’re feeling. Similarly, as a child gains self-control, they get better at regulating their emotions, waiting their turn, finding solutions, resolving conflicts, and sharing.

The attachment bond a child has with their parents also plays a part in their social development. Children who feel safe and self-assured are more likely to be sociable.

Helping your child learn to play with others

Below are a few tips for helping your child learn to play well with others.

  • Show them how to smile and say hello when they go up to other kids. If your child is shy, you can demonstrate how to wave and make a simple introduction that includes a basic question, such as “Hi there, what’s your name? This is my daughter, Ali.”
  • Encourage them to use their words when they want to play with someone. For example, teach them to say “Will you play with me?” or “May I please borrow your toy?” Your child can practise these phrases during playtime at home. If they aren’t talking yet, they can wave hello instead.
  • Teach them to be gentle around other kids. Children aren’t born with a sense of what it means to be calm and gentle. They have to learn that interacting with other people requires controlling their voice, touch, and movements.
  • Help them stay patient when waiting their turn by letting them know exactly how much longer it’ll be. For example, instead of simply telling them to wait, you could say, “Right now, it’s that little girl’s turn to go down the slide. Your brother is up next, and then it’ll be your turn.”
  • Choose activities where your child has to practise patience or sharing (e.g., board games, sports, arts and crafts). These will help them understand the concept of taking turns.
The more you allow your child to experience small wins, the more confident they’ll become when interacting with other kids.
  • Encourage your child to share by showing them how letting someone borrow one of their toys can elicit a positive reaction. For instance, you might say, “Look, you made your friend smile! He’s happy because you lent him your truck.” Keep in mind that learning to share takes time and lots of patience.
  • Encourage them to express their emotions and frustrations in words. Until your little one is able to say when something is bothering them, stay close by when they play with other children so you can teach them how to articulate what they’re unhappy about. For example, you could say, “I know you really want that puzzle, but Marianne is working on it right now. You have to wait your turn, no matter how impatient you feel.” If your child hasn’t learned to talk yet, you can put the problem into words for them, as in the following examples: “I know you’re frustrated because your friend took the truck and it’s hard to wait your turn,” or “Since you’re feeling frustrated, how about we ask if you can borrow it?”
Making sure that everyone in a group treats each other with respect can be tricky. How can you help your child learn to get along with others?
  • Help them learn to resolve conflicts on their own. Teach them to see things from the other person’s perspective (“Justine is upset because you took her toy”) and to come up with solutions (“Is there a way you and Justine could both play with the toy?”). If this strategy is too advanced for your child, you can offer solutions of your own (“How about we find a different toy for you to play with?” or “Give her back the toy for now and wait until she’s finished playing with it”). This will also help your child understand the idea of sharing.
  • Let them choose their own friends. Your child isn’t necessarily going to be best friends with their cousins or your best friend’s kids. Learning to get along with others takes time. It’s important to let your child learn at their own pace and make friends with peers who have similar interests. You can encourage them to socialize with other children at the park or daycare by saying things like, “Look, those kids are racing each other. You like to run too!”
  • Model good behaviour for your child when you interact with others (e.g., by being polite and saying hello). When you play games with them or when you’re with your friends, show them that you always share, wait your turn, and ask nicely for things.

When kids have trouble playing with others

If your child has a hard time fitting in or getting along with others, observe their behaviour to see what you can do to help. Ask the other adults involved in your little one’s care (e.g., their daycare educator) whether they’ve noticed that your child has trouble socializing. In addition, talk to your child directly; ask who they’d like to play with and what they think might help them make friends. You can also suggest that they offer to share toys or supplies that encourage group play (e.g., a ball or pencil crayons).
From the age of 3 or 4, some children can struggle to be accepted by their peers because of their behaviour or lack of social skills. If your child is feeling rejected, try to find out whether their behaviour is the issue. If so, you can help them become more socially adept.

Things to keep in mind

  • Children develop social skills as they get older that allow them to play well with others.
  • Your child needs your help in order to learn how to get along with other kids.
  • As your child’s role model, you can show them how to share, wait their turn, and ask nicely for things.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Andréane Ringuette, psychoeducator, and Rose-Marie Coallier, intern and master’s student in psychoeducation
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2024

Photo: GettyImages/FatCamera

Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Briand-Malenfant, Rachel. L’amour et l’amitié chez les enfants. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2016, 168 pp.
  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. “Peer relations.” 2023. child-encyclopedia.com
  • Ferland, Francine. Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien : de 0 à 6 ans. 2nd ed., Parlons Parents series, Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 264 pp.
  • Zaouche Gaudron, Chantal, et al. Espaces de socialisation extrafamiliale dans la petite enfance. Toulouse, éditions érès, 2021, 312 pp.

For kids

  • Placote. “Socio-Emotional Development” game collection. placote.com
  • Percival, Tom. Meesha Makes Friends. London, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020, 32 pp.
  • Sosa, Daniela. Friends. London, Simon & Schuster, 2022, 40 pp.