26 answers

3.5 Years Old and Peer Play Issues -- How Can School Help?

Moms,
I have a 3 and a half year old daughter who is sweet, funny, and very smart. She speaks in full sentences since the age of 2 in three different languages (we have a multi-lingual home) and has passed every single milestone with flying marks. She is a healthy child, loves being with kids, and loves her teachers and her school.

The rub is, she is a bit 'shy' in large groups, and does not naturally engage in play with other kids unless she has a lot of prompting and encouragement. She is very aware of others, and I feel that this is more about building her confidence and teaching her how to approach kids, how to make friends, and how to interact with them than lack of interest for example.

As a working mom, I don't have time to do as many playdates as I would like. I have a nanny at home to help with the kids while I work, and send her to a pre-school 3 times a week, from 9.00am to 2.00pm. The school calls itself "development focused" (vs. emphasizing academics) and I would like the school to help her develop her social skills, and encourage her to come out of her shell. After all, she is there in most of the critical "teaching moments" involving peer play.

However, the school director seems to be at a loss on how to help. She essentially told me to take my daughter to counseling in order to deal with "her problem". When I ask her what techniques/strategies are the teachers using with my kid, she can't really articulate an answer other than "we are all trying to help her".

Now here's my dilemma: I don't have a stigma in seeking the help of a counselor for my kid, but I would expect more from the school. My daughter is not being disruptive in class, bothering other kids, or showing any sign of being disengaged. She just needs prompting to spontaneously offer up answers she knows in circle time (again, she appears a bit shy in large groups) and needs help cracking the code on how to establish play with other kids. I am really bothered by the director's response and am considering whether to explore other school options (though we really like the environment in ours, which is a shame).

Any thoughts from other moms? Anything you can offer re. tips on how to teach a kid to engage in peer play, build confidence and the role you can expect the school to play in this?

Thank you for your thoughts here! E.

2 moms found this helpful

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you everyone for all the thoughtful reflections poured here. I appreciate you all taking the time to give me your candid thoughts. I don't have answers at this point, other than starting to explore various avenues simultaneously. I am touring other programs in my area this week to get a sense for what alternative approaches are out there. The biggest issue I have with her school's staff reaction the more I think about it is the fact that they talk to me as if this was the first time they are faced with this issue - and that takes a toll in confidence. I am not sure this means we'll change her school necessarily, but I feel that I need to explore what else is around me. We'll keep on one-on-one playdates whenever feasible (realistically, cutting back on work is not an 'option' for me - and that does not mean my child is 'less important' as some of the moms suggested - so will need to work this out in a reality in which I am still working). I don't think I will take her to counseling at this point, at least until we have exhausted some other routes.
Thanks again! E.

Featured Answers

Shyness certainly does not require counseling, unless there are other underlying issues (sounds like there isn't). In my opinion, as an educator, you need to find a different school. Social skills are one the key things that they do in any good preschool program. If the director doesn't get that, it's a problem.
My daughter is also extremly shy and timid. She has been in school since she was 2. She has made tremendous leaps in this department. Her school teachers social skills, how to be assertive, etc.
While there is nothing WRONG with being shy, it certainly can hold a person back from meeting their poetential or standing up for themselves if bullied or mistreated.

I don't know where you live, but both my girls go the Fountain Valley Montessori and are THRIVING there! I highly recommend it!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi. I too have a 3 1/2 year old. He is very smart and tends to get quiet in large groups. He too goes to a preschool 3 days a week. I have often worried about him being shy. When he is at home, he is bubbly and full of personality but when he gets to school he almost shys away from playing with other kids, with the exception of a couple he is really comfortable with. I have talked to a lot of other moms about this and they say have no fear. Some kids are just more shy than others. When my son is in a small group, say 4-6 kids, he is perfectly fine..especially if there are little ones around. When he's around kids even a year or so older I think he gets really intimidated. I wouldn't worry too much. Some kids may just be the quiet ones in the group, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with her socially. Before doing any sort of counseling, I would recommend watching her in small groups. I know you said you work, so try having a kid come home from school with her one day and see if she is more social. Unless she is completely unsocial around all kids, I wouldn't be too concerned. I have learned from my son, when he is comfortable he is social. When he is around friends he has known his whole life (however short), he is social. When he is in a small group, he is social. So it just has to be on his terms. I can't push him, like when he's in a large group, even 10 kids because it makes it harder for him. Hope this helps.
B

More Answers

Hello,
If I were you I would be strongly considering moving her to another school as soon as you can. I don't think it is unreasonable to expect that an early childhood development program would make it their goal to nurture children of all personalities and aim to meet individual needs. My daughter is 2.5 and also very shy. She is super expressive at home but recoils into a shell around groups. Her pre-school has been WONDERFUL at giving her special focus to help her 'open up.' The teachers and directors are very loving and do whatever it takes to work with each child and give them special focus to build a community environment. One day early the director let my daughter nap in her office because she was having trouble in the group setting. This focussed approach is doing wonders with my daughter. She still likes to spend time alone but is now playful and open around the others. The other day the teacher was proud to tell me how my daughter started laughing at a situation. Don't settle. Shop around and find a school that meets your child's needs. You shouldn't have to teach your school how to care for your daughter. They should be inspiring you with their methods.

good luck.

2 moms found this helpful

My daughter was/is very shy - and rarely spoke up in class at all until grade 4. So she is shy - who cares? One on one playdates and encounters is the best way to allow her to ease into this when SHE is ready. Maybe you need to cut back on your hours at work so you can give that to her. After all, which is more important?

The more she is pushed, the slower she will progress in this area. I'd look at other school - or better yet - I think 3 1/2 is way too young to be in school anyway. Sounds like she needs good old mom at the park days, and some mommy & me classes with you and other mom's and their kids.

K.

2 moms found this helpful

You will be thinking about your hurt feelings and not what is best for your daughter if you remove her from the pre-school she loves. The director might have been a bit intimidated by you, but she and her staff spend plenty time with your daughter and thus they should be treated as reliable sources of information. Their observations of your daughter in social situations may be worth following-up on. "Help cracking the code" for socially competent intereactions sounds easy but it is not. Look around and see the many adults who are disabled by their lack of social skills at work or otherwise. If I were you, I'd would take my child to a good pediatric licensed psychologist for a psychosocial evaluation. If there is nothing to worry about, the eval will say so and everyone will be able to relax. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

It's her personality, not a "problem!" Honestly, your daughter is still young - start looking for a preschool that is better suited to her personality. While you may like the program, the people running it don't sound so great.

The labels that teachers/schools give kids with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THEM are ridiculous, and only done for their own convenience, NOT out of concern for the child (most of the time). Easier to make all kids conform than to deal with them as individuals. Very sad.

My daughter has always been on the "shy" side. She's 3 now, and sometimes does okay in group settings, sometimes not. She's only come as far as she has because we honored that aspect of her personality - and while we always gave gentle nudges to help encourage her, we never forced her to do anything.

And how do you "force" a child to play with others anyway? What is a counselor who has never met your child going to say or do that you haven't done already?

1 mom found this helpful

Hi E F First of all I must say I think the directors response to you was uneducated and unprofessional. Being shy at the age of your daughter is completely normal, your daughter in my opinion does not need couseling. Pre school is a preporation for kindergarden. Pre school and kindergarden are the years that children learn social skills. There's a couple things that you can do, and that the school can do, you can to her class one day and observe, and find a child who you feel has some charactorestics as your daughter, talk to the parent and/or the teacher and have them ask this child to befriend your daughter having another child come up to her will give her confidence, and she may start to feel secure enough do that herself.In the class they need to be having good news sharing, activities where the kids pair up together, projects to where more than one or two work together, things of that nature. Hope this helps sorry for all the miss spelled works, 'm a daycare provider and I have had a lot of practice teaching children to be out of themselves, how to play and work together. J. L.

1 mom found this helpful

I have to say it...why so much pressure on your daughter. My daughter is extremely social, expressive, not shy at all and she prefers to play alone or one on one. It's her style. She enjoys school and finds ways to be envovled and engaged at all times.
Your daughter will excell in ways that make her comfortable.

1 mom found this helpful

Shyness certainly does not require counseling, unless there are other underlying issues (sounds like there isn't). In my opinion, as an educator, you need to find a different school. Social skills are one the key things that they do in any good preschool program. If the director doesn't get that, it's a problem.
My daughter is also extremly shy and timid. She has been in school since she was 2. She has made tremendous leaps in this department. Her school teachers social skills, how to be assertive, etc.
While there is nothing WRONG with being shy, it certainly can hold a person back from meeting their poetential or standing up for themselves if bullied or mistreated.

I don't know where you live, but both my girls go the Fountain Valley Montessori and are THRIVING there! I highly recommend it!

1 mom found this helpful

Take her to a different preschool. There are 13 years of primary education to teach her academics. Toddlers need to be nurtured. My guess is there's nothing wrong with your daughter except needing love and encouragement and you don't need a counselor for that.

1 mom found this helpful

Counseling? SERIOUSLY? Oy ve... maybe... just maybe this little girl is naturally shy until she warms up to the people around her. I'm like that... I DESPISE new groups and even more if they are large. However, I'm also a stage actress and love public speaking... see the contradiction? It's not about her not being good enough the way she is or need therapy... she's 3.5 and my guess is that she's very intelligent (based on what you say) and that she is selective in who she befriends. I see NOTHING wrong with that... if it continues it will save you a lot of heartache in the long run. She's more than likely surveying the scene and seeing where she fits in... maybe a more academic setting would help her to thrive... then she might be amongst peers with whom she feels more on the same level.
As a former teacher I used to tell my parents that the education of a child is a trinity. 1/3 parent 1/3 teacher & 1/3 child. If any one part misses the boat then the child will suffer. I would get your nanny involved. If you would like playdates then schedule them and have her take them. (Personally I would avoid having them at your home without you being there for liability sake... but it's up to you) .

1 mom found this helpful

HI EF,
I was a teacher for 17 years and encountered a few students such as your child that were very shy. I always tried to encourage my shy students to play and interact with others at recess, but because there were so many children on the playground, and because they children they chose to interact with were always surrounded with other children, they would become overwhelmed. The only thing that seemed to help was allowing these children one-on-one time with other children which was encouraged at home with sleep overs and playdates. Unfortunately, the school environment doesn't really allow much time for one-on-one. I would not blame the teachers they are most likely doing the best that they can, and are most likely encouraging your daughter to play and interact.

1 mom found this helpful

Let the kid be a kid. Take her out of preschool. Have her nanny(the other mommy)take her to the park and play every day. Have the other mommy go to the play date of have play dates at your place. Invite more then one child.She will learn socialization and behavior the old fashioned way-by doing it. Play based activities are great. Put four youngsters in a sand box and they play. Have her take her to a mommy and me play group. Go to the zoo,invite others with children to come along. Go watch the trains and planes, go to a music group,take her to art classes, have parties at the house- the other mommy can make an art party-fingerpainting,clay,play with shaving cream, water,rice.make colages all this with a little paint and glue eating-a really fun day.Join the ymca-they have a plethera of group activities for kids. Obviously school isnt the answer. You will be amazed at the positive and happy change. Have fun-well the other mommy

I have no educatiom in children but it sure was an eye opener when i worked at my daughters school for one day a week. Do you know how fast the kids would pick up on your daughter getting a talking to? shew that wouldd be a mess.Also I noticed life just slowed down. There is a kid in my daughters class that doesnt talk. He has a great time, just doesnt talk. My opinion dont mention the talking thing. Let it resolve. Whatever you do dont change schools.Your daughter would be crushed. Ask her and maybe she can tell you. My 3 year old would wail for days if I even mentioned that.Just let her find herself at school it sounds like a nice place. my daughters teacher is not that great with adults but when I saw her with the kids i appreciate her more.

Dear E.F.
I'm not sure I would feel comfortable with a school that calls her shyness a "problem". Each child learns how to deal with everything in their own time. You say your child ir multi-lingual, is easily understood and is bright, then what are you worried about?
Many children just need more exposure to many groups of people...not just in a school setting, but out and about at the park, zoo, museum, etc. Children just need alot of practice in honing their social skills and your time enthusiasm and energy to help them to explore more of their world will help. If YOU feel there continues to be a problem, then maybe it is with the interpersonal connections, or dis-connections with the school personnel. I'm sure it is a great school and she has learned alot, but is she connecting to any one ADULT or ADULTS at the school? Maybe she doesn't feel secure enough to open up? Maybe she needs more time away from the Nanny and more exposure to school. How long has she been there?
These are the questions you need to answer for yourself.
GOOD LUCK,
W.

Hi E F, I am late in responding but I just wanted to put in a few words. I also have a 3 1/2 yr old DD and she sounds just like your DD. She's very shy with some adults, and when there's a larger group of children she also becomes shy. She's very outgoing at home and with anyone familiar, she's passed every milestone ahead of time and her pedi doesn't at all seem concerned. I was a little concerned about it at first, but my mom told me I was the exact same way as she was. I then started talking to more parents and learned that there are many many shy children (more than I had thought) and it is very much the norm. I don't think she needs any type of counseling and don't believe she has any type of "problem" as the director said. I find it strange the director called it a problem, I hope they start helping out more with your concerns.

I agree w/the other posters about your daughter NOT needing counseling...good grief! My son was this way at the same age, and I tried to join different acitivities around other children. It gave me the opportunity to "coach" him on how to make friends, act around other kids, etc. He was at a loss, and asked for my help. My son is an expressive little guy and said "but I don't know what to do", w/tears in his eyes. Maybe your daughter is feeling something similar...? Also, when you drop her off at prechool...you can "observe and coach". I still do this and it helps him...the teachers say he is doing great. But, that's another thing...his teachers are very supportive! Sounds like hers aren't, which is a bummer! The Director sounds like she needs to be demoted! I'm sorry you're going through this, it WILL get better, it always does!
Good luck to you!!!

Hi E F Your daughter is 3 1/2 years old, and most kids are running around, not playing together but more parallel playing, and not paying attention to each other.
Did her teacher think she was slow in this area? or do you??? What would you want to do from your common sense point of view? Give her some time to assess her environment and remember she has all the qualities that you mentioned in the beginning to assure yourself and all of us that she is normal. She IS NORMAL just give her some time. Do you take some time to watch other children, read some books on milestones and take a class with other Moms and kids with her to actually see how this age interacts? Give that a try and give her some time...you have a long road ahead and you've just begun.
She's fine, you're fine take care, Deb

I know I'm a little late responding but your daughter's behavior is absolutely normal. My son was the same way at that age. However, after full time preschool (age 4) and Kindergarten (age 5) he became much more outgoing. By 6 years old he was able to go into situations where he knew no one and find kids to play with. You might want to find a school that is more in tune with your daughter's needs but I think she'll be fine in a couple of years.

Hope this helps.

Find someone whose advice you trust, whether a counselor or other developmental specialist, then educate your school director in how to help your daughter. You'd be doing all the other children who come across her path a service, and you'll know you've done everything you can before you make the decision to switch from a school both you and your daughter like. Whenever I've given teachers pointers regarding developmental or behavioral things I've found that help, I've always found them to be receptive, and, ultimately, it's helped my child.

If you are unhappy with the school send her to l good luck A. no hillsa different schoo;

Hi. I too have a 3 1/2 year old. He is very smart and tends to get quiet in large groups. He too goes to a preschool 3 days a week. I have often worried about him being shy. When he is at home, he is bubbly and full of personality but when he gets to school he almost shys away from playing with other kids, with the exception of a couple he is really comfortable with. I have talked to a lot of other moms about this and they say have no fear. Some kids are just more shy than others. When my son is in a small group, say 4-6 kids, he is perfectly fine..especially if there are little ones around. When he's around kids even a year or so older I think he gets really intimidated. I wouldn't worry too much. Some kids may just be the quiet ones in the group, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with her socially. Before doing any sort of counseling, I would recommend watching her in small groups. I know you said you work, so try having a kid come home from school with her one day and see if she is more social. Unless she is completely unsocial around all kids, I wouldn't be too concerned. I have learned from my son, when he is comfortable he is social. When he is around friends he has known his whole life (however short), he is social. When he is in a small group, he is social. So it just has to be on his terms. I can't push him, like when he's in a large group, even 10 kids because it makes it harder for him. Hope this helps.
B

I have been taking my daughter to a RIE baby group once a week since she was 4 months old and added a Waldorf toddler class once a week at 18 months.

http://www.rie.org/

http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/

I have been very happy with both. Don't know if these programs exist in your area. There are many things I love about these approaches, but among them is how much time they spend educating the parents and teaching them to observe and to create environments where each individual child can thrive.

They focus on play. They talk about the critical importance of a child's body and movement keeping time with her mind. Children who are too much in their minds and too little in their bodies run into trouble in various ways. Perhaps this is happening to your daughter. A teacher in these programs might encourage you to stop allowing television and perhaps even reading to her for a while. Instead, more imaginative free-play would be encouraged. Just a thought.

I also agree with the one-on-one approach that some of the mothers suggested. It would be great if you could make friends with some of the moms at school and meet in your homes or somewhere outside of school to give your daughter and the other children a chance to know each other personally.

If you decide to take her to therapy, a "talking teacher" can be a wonderful addition to a child's life, so find one you love who can be with her throughout her childhood and into her teens when other things come up.

My Daughter, is very much like your Daughter... even the multilingual part.
My Daughter, in large groups, can be "shy". BUT... the thing about her is, she is very observant and cognizant of others and can analyze people VERY well- better than most adults. SO, her "style" of engaging is just different from other kids who are usually more loosey-goosey and not as focused and are usually just irritating others. SO... we "value" the personality my Daughter has. That is "her." We always emphasize with her, that she ALWAYS be her SELF... and to always be proud of who she is... because she has a strong grounded sense of identity. So we focus on that.

"Shyness" is pegged as a "bad' word as a child is growing up. Its a stigma sometimes... if told to the child too much, it can give them hang-ups.

To me, "shyness" is not a bad thing. It is something that a child goes through... and being so young as your daughter... they change as they get older. I myself, was "shy" as a child... but as I got older, I got more outgoing and very outspoken even. In college, I "blossomed" even more... and my Professors would always tell me "Susan, you are the life of the class and the only one who says her mind and you are very informed... but give the other kids a chance to show t heir voice..." I was a straight A student... my previous "shyness" as a youngster, was a distant memory.

The MAIN thing about a child... is that they have (1) confidence (2) self-assuredness (3) self expression (4) self Identity (5) good communication (6) good social evaluation & character (7) self-confidence.... etc. "Shyness" is not enough to drag a child down... unless they are made to be even MORE self-conscious about it from adults. And THEN, it "will" become a problem.

In Teacher conferences re my daughter, Teachers always say she is the SHINING example of how they WISH their other students are...."but" that she is shy. For me as a Mom, it does not bother me... because I KNOW my daughter. She is wise and mature and outgoing in other venues and smaller groups. BUT, in time, she will mature more and get more adjusted to "large" groups that she is a part of. NO biggie.

I would not "force" your girl to be not shy. There is a time and a season for everything. In time, she will not be that way... or will grow and blossom in other ways.
MANY geniuses & talents in the world, are actually introverts... it never made them any less of an achiever.

Being "shy" is not a "problem" unless it is destroying all social aspects in your daughter's life or disrupting it. AND, as a Teacher, (in my daughter's case), they just call on her a tad more... or have her do "errands" for them with other Teachers, or have her do verbal instructions for the class etc. And- as for engaging in peer-play as you said... each child has their own personality.
The "school" or Teacher is not the SOLE entity that "has to" build her confidence. A lot of it comes from home too... but allowing for the child to build upon their OWN strengths... not trying to be someone else... which will only make them shyer and more self-conscious.

For me as a child... the more my Mom "made me" try to be "outgoing" the MORE I withdrew... I HATED her doing that to me... it was not "me." It was her trying to make me into her. As young as I was... I KNEW I did not have a "problem"... I was just on the quiet/shy side. I didn't know WHY on earth she'd tell others "Susan is shy.... so..." and then sound like it was making excuses for me when, WHY does it have to be "bad" to be more shy?

Your daughter has LOTS more years of childhood to blossom...

All the best,
Susan

Ask yourself, what so wrong about being shy? Also if she is shy, why would you change her environment again? It may take her a long time to adjust to a new school. Did you ever consider getting her tested for Gifted and Talented? I don't know any three year olds that can speak three languages. Often times very gifted children have a hard time socializing with peers the same age. An Educational Psycologist can do some cognitive testing on her. You can share the testing results with her teachers to make sure they are doing everything to help her. Good Luck

What I would do:
Make the effort to have play dates with other kids one on one. You can't be working 24 hours a day. Have friends with other kids for dinner or lunch on weekends.
Do you have a religion? Try Sunday school. This can be a smaller group.
Have the nanny take her to the park. There should be other children there.
Don't make an issue of it all.
Some community centers have art classes for very little one. I know a few little ones that enjoy this.
B. v. O.

Hello there. I totally get what you are saying. My daughter was the same way. Very talkative, funny & sweet around people she's comfortable with. But when it came to playing with other kids she was VERY shy & would hang on my leg. So I enrolled her in a dance class & gymnastics throught the city recreation activities. The very 1st dance class the instructor asked the parents to leave the room & watch through a big glass window. My child looked worried & started to almost cry. I let her know don't worry mommy's right her. I can see you through the window. Next thing you know it after being prompted by the instructor my child started dancing along with the other kids. She did keep on glancing back to see if I was there & I gave her a reassuring smile. Week after week she became less shy. She also had an awesome experiece at her gymnastics class because the instructor really engaged her & called her by her name. This really helped my daughter out & she's totally come out of her shell. So my advice would be to try to enroll your child in a class once a week for only 45-60mins at a place where the instructors are engaged with the children in a fun setting. I hope this little piece of advice helps: ) (I too was a shy child growing up & I can remember the fear that I had playing with other kids so if you'd like to email or talk please contact me.)

Hi E,

It sounds as if the school really isn't giving you much help here. My first question, though, is whether your daughter's shyness is a problem for her, as well. Some kids are more independent and there's nothing wrong with that.

If, however, you think she is struggling with this, I would start by talking to her. What does she have to say about her school? What about the other kids? If playdates are important for her, I would find a way to make time for that.

There also are a number of great schools to consider and the environment could make a huge difference. If you're in the valley, I would highly recommend Children's Circle in Van Nuys. If you are on the west side, I would recommend checking out Cassidy in Santa Monica.

You don't have to have all the answers. Engage your daughter and you can work this out together. Challenges make us stronger (even when we are only 3 years old).

If I can be of any further help, feel free to contact me.
Be well,
G. Brown, M.A.
Child Development Specialist & Parent Coach
www.GilaBrown.com

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