Three year old who doesn't play!

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-10-2009
Three year old who doesn't play!
Tue, 11-10-2009 - 9:38am

Hello Everyone!

This is my first post to this website... lets start with a brain buster!

I have a three year old at home that just does not have the desire to play with kids. We pulled him from an in-home daycare about 6 months ago and put him in a public daycare with kids his age and ones that he will be going to school with.

My wife and I were hoping that we could get him in with some kids that he could play with and make friends with because we were noticing that he just didn't want to play with kids his age.

Fast forward to now.... here are some symptoms that we notice with his social life with other kids....

1. Would rather play by himself with a good truck or ball.

2. Talks to teachers and adults more than kids his age.

3. Imitates kids and what they are doing, but doesn't interact with them. Daycare teachers notice that he will watch kids run across the room and my son will follow ten seconds later.

4. Had a birthday party this weekend... sat and cried that kids were playing with his toys. Ended up playing by himself.

5. Language still isn't quite there... still babbles a bit and repeats what is asked to him constantly. But don't get me wrong... super smart kid. Knows how to count to 20 by himself, sings around 10 songs by himself.

6. He will bend over backwards to make anyone happy. Eager to please and will do anything you ask!

Please give any and all recommendations! We are looking at putting him in a "Pre-Pre K" classroom to see if he can learn to play and socialize. I dropped him off this morning and it about broke

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-08-2007
Tue, 11-10-2009 - 1:02pm

I'm so bad at advice on kids who don't interact well with other kids-my DD is very social...but if I were you I'd talk to his pediatrician. let them know your concerns and they will be able to give you recommendations and possibly have him assessed if needed. Sorry I'm not more help...maybe someone else will join in and give a recommendation! Keep us posted!!

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-28-2004
Wed, 11-11-2009 - 10:43pm

Hi there,
I can understand why you're concerned about your son.
I don't have children of my own, but I hope I can give you some helpful advice.
I was a child development minor in college, and I spent a year as an assistant preschool teacher for kids the same age as your son... at the beginning of the year, they were all 2, and by the end of the year, they had all had their 3rd birthdays. Of course, they ranged in age a bit.

Kids that age go through a LOT of changes in their social behavior, and every child's timetable is a little bit different.

What you're describing is that your son enjoys individual play, and he also engages in what is called "parallel play" with other children (like following them around, playing beside them, imitating their actions). However, he doesn't engage in "interactive play."

This is VERY typical for many children your son's age. I would say that at the beginning of the school year when I taught, ALL of the children in my class were just like that: individual and parallel play, but no interactive play.
By the end of the school year (age 3), most had caught on and were beginning to master interactive play, but there was certainly a variety of levels, and some children still had not gotten there. There was nothing wrong with these children! Interactive play is a difficult step in development.

In order to engage in interactive play, a child needs to have certain areas of development. He needs to develop his *language* skills enough so that he can clearly communicate his desires with his playmates. He needs enough *patience* to be able to share. Perhaps the most important development that occurs around age 3 is called the "theory of mind," which is the realization that other people have their own thoughts and desires. Until that point, a sentence like "Why won't you share with Bobby? Bobby wants to play with that toy!" won't make any impression on them, other than the fact that someone is going to take away their toy. This realization is key to be able to interact and negotiate with another child. Once your child has developed these skills, he will need *practice* in negotiating situations, such as using words like "please" and "thank you," and problem solving skills.

Since your son is still only 3 years old, I wouldn't worry about it. He is still quite typical for his age group, and learning how to play with others is a long process. I have a feeling that 6 months from now, you will be blown away by how well he plays with others. Keep working with him on skills that are lacking (such as speaking clearly, and useful phrases like "can I play?"), and definitely put him in situations where he can practice and interact with other kids when he is ready.
He will learn! It will just take time for all these parts of development to "click" together.

Hope that I was able to help you a little bit!

Edited 11/12/2009 11:14 am ET by eyeofthetiger28
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iVillage Member
Registered: 06-25-2005
Sat, 11-14-2009 - 11:38pm

I agree with the post that recommended talking to your pediatrician. Sometimes kids are just slower to develop certain skills, but sometimes there are bigger developmental delays that can be improved through early intervention.

Write down all the symptoms you see in your child (like you did here) and give them to your pediatrician. Oftentimes a parent will mention one or two symptoms at a time, as they think about them, to the doctor. By themselves, those individual symptoms may not be meaningful, but as a collection of symptoms, it could represent a more significant pattern of developmental delays that could be concerning.

You can even have your child evaluated by your local county's childhood early intervention program (call your county's health dept or your pediatrician's office for the phone number). If it turns out your ds is within normal ranges of development, then you'll put your mind at ease. If it turns out that your ds has more delays than appropriate, then the earlier he gets services to help him, the better it will be for him when he's older. Another resource for testing would be a developmental pediatrician or neuropsychologist.

I have two children with mild developmental delays. Your post doesn't give any strong examples of behaviors that would make me think that your child definitively has delays (esp since he's young enough that he could still be within appropriate developmental parameters), BUT, there are some potential red flags that I think would be wise to get checked out to be sure.

My children with mild delays (mild autism spectrum disorders) are high functioning, very intelligent kids (advanced classes at school). They have a few friends (tho' sometimes need a little social guidance) and can manage most social settings. They were never the leaders in play groups when younger, but if someone instructed them, they were happy to play along.

As fas as putting your ds in a pre-pre-K group, could you have him visit a pre-pre-K group for a day or two to see how he does? How does he do with younger children generally? How does he do with the kinds of toys that age group uses? If younger children upset him and their toys bore him, that could be a disastrous change. However, if your ds finds that younger children are gentler and easier to play with, then that could be a great approach for your ds. Honestly, though, if your ds isn't complaining about playing alone, he may be happy doing what he's doing. Perhaps the teachers could help him learn how to integrate with the other children if he's copying what they're playing (but don't force him to play with them if he finds interactive play more stressful than parallel play).

Best wishes.