"But I Don't Want to Play with Her."

Updated on January 22, 2011
L.!. asks from Marietta, GA
11 answers

My almost 5 year old daughter is typically a polite, well-meaning girl. She's partially the sweet princess, partially the go-get'em confident superhero, and a little bit the mischievous fairy. However, I've noticed that she tends to show a rather exclusionary ugly attitude to classmates that she doesn't enjoying playing with. We've talked about how it's important to be friends with everyone, we've discussed how sad she would feel if she was ever ignored or not invited to a birthday... But its not sinking in. :-(

This past weekend she met a friend at a local bouncy house playnasium. Another girl from her preschool class happened to be there (alone) too. Yes, suddenly we had the dreaded girl threesome... And we all know that keeping 3 girls happy is a rarity--someone always gets left out... And it was the little girl from her class (who is very sweet but a little shy and timid, and attends school 2 days a week instead of full-time). At one point, my daughter must've said something like, "I don't want to play with you" which left the little girl in tears.

So, we wrote an apology note and she gave it to her today. We talked about how we shouldn't say hurtful things when we're tired or grumpy. We've talked about how being a big girl sometimes means making an effort to include classmate you might not always play with... So, eventually I said, "what is it? You can tell me." and she replied, "But Mama, why do I have to play with girls I don't like?" (Aaaargh! Back to square one!)

I'm at a loss on how to teach empathy and inclusiveness differently. I know, she's only four--she understands black & white messages, but the gray layers of manners and civilities might be too much for a young girl to grasp. However, I still think her behavior was unacceptable and mean. Any suggestions? I also recognize that telling her to play with everyone sends mixed messages, since we have always told her that she should never feel obligated to hang around kids that make uncomfortable; that she doesn't have to do something (with friends) if she doesn't want to or if she feels it's not right; that it's ok to leave a group and be by yourself if you're not comfortable (which is what she did this weekend; eventually she told both girls that she didn't want to play with either of them.)

I'm worried she'll turn into a mean, catty girl without some parental intervention. And, then there is the side of me that says I'm being a helicopter mom... Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

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answers from Sacramento on

My daughters are 5 and 8, and I totally understand your dilemma. My older daughter was awful at that age - she would act like such a little snot! Normally she is a very sweet girl, but at that age she became very exclusive when choosing her friends. She would "only" play with a few girls, and it became common to hear "You're not my friend!" or "I'm not going to play with you." Ugh. She seemed to love making other kids cry! Whenever I heard it, I'd immediately remove her from the situation - if we were at the park, I'd pack her up and take her away right that minute. If I was picking her up from school and heard it, I'd tell her she was going to bed an hour early (because only very cranky and tired children are mean to their friends! - at least that is what I'd tell her). She learned. She's now in 3rd grade and has LOTS of friends - and even the ones she doesn't really like, she is still kind to.

Basically I treat all undesirable behavior the same way - I make the consequences memorable, and therefore, persuasive.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Do you hang out with the obnoxious neighbor that makes your skin crawl just because you show up at the same place? Probably not.
It's okay if she doesn't want to play with someone. Instead of teaching inclusiveness no matter what-which isn't how the world works anyway-teach her the manners of how to handle not playing with someone. "I don't want to play with you" is not acceptable. A simple "Hi!" to the other girl in the first place was really all that was needed. Speak, be civil, no inclusiveness is required or implied at this point.
If you went to lunch with a friend, and another acquaintance was at the same restaurant alone, would you feel obligated to invite the acquaintance to join you? Especially if you were looking forward to a catch up period with the friend that you came with?
I think teaching her to be "friends" with everyone is overstepping. Teach her to be "kind" to everyone.
Good luck.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I tell my girls they do not have to play with everyone, BUT they DO have to be NICE to everyone. That means no hurtful comments are made to make someone feel left out or actions that make them feel unwelcome. You cannot ever really force kids to play together or to be friends if they really don't click with each other, and that's OK. But they don't get to choose who they meet up with in public or at school, and in those situations, they must be kind to everyone. I hate that group of 3 thing too. Brace yourself for it to always be a challenge for girls throughout the years. In this case, once it happens by chance, because you know this is tough for your daughter, I would pull her aside and give a reminder about being kind to everyone. Then I would just watch. If she says or act in any not nice way, I would apologize to the girl and her Mom, pick her up and leave.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

You're right, she's a pretty concrete thinker at this age, and you're right, you are giving her mixed messages. I'm tenderheared and tend to root for the underdog, but it seems true to me that nobody, adult or child, should probably be required to play with people they really don't like except under certain circumstances, perhaps (like at a family gathering or the company picnic).

But you can help her learn how to decline or exit at least some situations graciously. For example, instead of the honest and direct "I don't want to play with you," she might say "I want to play by myself." Or if she's already playing with one friend, "Sorry, this game is just for two. Maybe next time."

It is important for children to start working out their own social issues by the time they reach school age, because they won't have parents or teachers watching all their interactions. And the forming and changing of social groups does include a lot of awkwardness, false starts, hurt feelings, mistaken friendships, dropped and changing alliances. This is just a fact of life, and as wonderful as it would be if everybody could always be nice to each other, we do our best work as parents by influencing and modeling through our own values and behavior.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

You're being a great mom! Would that more mothers worked with their daughters on this. Four is early to understand, but you have to keep working on it and "stay on message". After school talks with my kids, girls in particular, helped a lot with these issues. Both my daughters were good about being sweet to underdogs. My college senior, the youngest, takes misfits under her wing...almost too much. You can help her to understand by continuing to help her put herself in others' shoes. Eventually the lesson will kick in.
Again, I only wish everyone were so concerned. We would have far fewer mean girl.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from College Station on

Why DOES she have to play with kids she does not like? Yes, she needs to be courteous and respectful and do her best not to hurt their feelings, but it is my opinion that everyone does not have to be friends with everyone else. That is just not the way the world works. The faster she learns that, the better off she will be.
While she needs to learn to deal with and work with people she does not like, this is not a lesson she needs to learn at 4.
For the time being, teach her how to refuse her cohorts politely. "I am sorry, but so-and-so and I are in the middle of a game. We will play with you when we are done" kind of thing.

Good Luck

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

just be consistent. it sounds like you are a caring mom. i dont think she would turn into a uncaring person since you sound like such a caring person.

different subject: i never invite the whole class for b day parties. we have the parties at our house. its way too many kids. i keep it small. usually no more than 7 kids but sometimes siblings come also. sometimes you just cant be friends with everyone..but its still important to treat each kindly and with manners.



answers from Tulsa on

I admire you for wanting to help her and not have a catty girl. My child was the shy, timid one who was always the one left out. For her, being inclusive comes naturally, but at a cost. SOME kids feel they can treat her badly and there won't be any consequences because she always forgives. She keeps forgiving them and being nice.

One of the girls has a mother who encouraged us to tell her everytime her daughter did something mean. We went over a few times for the big things. We sat through a few talks and apologies.

The girl never did start liking my child, after 6 years now. I keep them in seperate classes. Her daughter is mean to other girls as well, following the lead of the Queen Bee of the entire grade.

I wish you luck with this. Girls and relationships with other girls is the area we most struggle with.


answers from Jacksonville on

I'm with Peg. There is nothing wrong with her choosing her own friends. That is sort of what she is doing. What you need to do is work with her on how she is going about it. Teach her tactful polite things to say, rather than the blunt "I don't like you." "I don't want to play with you." phrasing. There are a million nicer things she could say to deflect.

Even moms on this site are offended if someone posts a response that comes across too blunt. That is what your daughter is doing... being really really blunt. And it hurts feelings more than the same message in a nicer way.



answers from Houston on

It's important that she learn to be kind to others, but she should not be forced to play with everybody. In fact, I think that it's important the she learn now to be discerning and get used to the idea of deciding for herself what she likes in a friend or playmate, even as that changes over the years.



answers from Austin on

You should ask her why she doesn't like the little girl. It's ok for her to not like everyone but should be polite. I've taught my son that it's ok to choose his friends but in some situations you make the best of a situation. There have been times a parent has come over to talk with me about something I'm in charge of and brought their child which my son doesn't like. I let him know ahead of time to be polite and to make the most of it while me and the parent talked. He did and then as soon as the boy left he mentioned he didn't ever want to play with him again if he could avoid it. In situations like the playnasium could be one of those make the most of the situation that way the other child doesn't feel left out or upset but your daughter isn't required to like her or play with her all the time. At this age is when they notice difference in likes or dislikes and personalities. It's ok for her to pick and choose her close friends but certain situations you play with those that aren't your close friends. Even as adults we sometimes have to do that and if you start now I think it will help her later on.

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