Playdates at parks inclusion

When we're at parks with a friend, sometimes a third child will want to join. Sometimes my child and her friend are okay with it, but sometimes not. I don't know how much to force it. I feel bad for the other kid, but I also feel like it's just a playdate and they should be able to play with each other. It only gets more awkward when we kind of know the other kid. We've also been on the other side of it too. My child has seemed to accept it when the kids run off with each other or say no, but I know she's disappointed. What do you do? They're all early elementary school aged. Is there wording I should be teaching for inclusion or exclusion? Should I push inclusion more when they do know each other? I also know that this will be come back on them when the rejected child sees my child next...ouch. Signed, overthinking parent

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RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

That is a tricky situation that I have observed with my kid, primarily as the odd one out. My son (now 7) has always been an outgoing kid who enjoys playing with everyone and is not shy approaching other kids and playing with them. I observed this often when he was age 2-5 and we would go to playgrounds or Kindergym a lot.

I noticed that with sibling groups (or sometimes nanny share groups or best friend groups), there was a tendency for them to kind of team up and tell my son he couldn't play with them. And not in a way where they were objecting to something he was doing, i.e. he wasn't being rough or rude or anything. It was tricky because my value that I taught my son was that in a public place, anyone is allowed to play; you can't exclude a kid from part of the playground just because that kid is not related to you or one of your friends. However, I can't force other children to subscribe to my values, especially if their parents support exclusion. I would just take deep breaths and remind myself that these kids were in fact preschoolers who would learn soon enough in kindergarten that yes they have to share the playground with everyone and no they're not entitled to sit next to their best friend all the time.

As it turns out, my son is very adaptable and generally found ways to interact positively with exclusionary kids so that they warmed up to him and the next thing I knew, they'd all be playing some game together. He still is this way.

If the kids in question are already in elementary school, then they almost certainly have heard about inclusion in the classroom. I would highly doubt your child's teacher actively supports exclusion of other children. Perhaps your child's teacher can tell you what kind of language the school uses about inclusion so that you are using consistent terminology.

In short, public playgrounds are public. Your living room is a better place for exclusive time.

RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

It so depends on the situation and the game being played.  I have two very social kids (early elementary) and my youngest is a very shy preschooler and we often do playdates in playground with their friends and sometimes just my three kids.  I personally don't intervene unless there is violence, harsh words exchanged, etc. (though so far I only intervened once when a bigger kid was being mean to my preschooler and it escalated fast so I intervened as it looked like my older son was about to hit him in little brother's defense).   Kids need to learn to navigate playgrounds on their own and learn the pros and cons of inclusion and exclusion, how to play with other kids, and how to make their wishes known to others and navigate the social scene.  I will never make my kids play with someone they don't want to (unless it is a kid they invited for a playdate and changed their mind or it is a guest in our house) but I will make sure my kids are polite about it.  There is a difference between excluding a child from a public space (i.e. telling another kid you cannot play on slide or be in the sand box because I'm here with my friend) which is not ok, and just deciding not to include another kid in a game (i.e. if my kids are playing a game with a friend and another kid wants to join, it is up to them whether to include him/her or to tell him that maybe another time as long as they are not occupying any specific space, in which case if they want alone time they need to move).  Often my older son will be playing with my preschooler who is very shy and another kid will want to join and my son often tells him no since if another kid joins my little one will often stop playing as he is very shy with strangers and loves time alone with big brother; there is nothing wrong with that as long as other kids still have space to play, access to playground premises/equipment and are told in a nice way that right now they want to play alone but maybe another time.    

RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

We've had a very similar experience with our daughter (7yo) as the previous poster. She'd like to play with everyone at the playground - classmates, kids she doesn't know, toddlers, whoever - and will play with pretty much anyone who approaches her. She's been rejected plenty of times but she's resilient. She now mostly doesn't bother approaching kids in who are already in pairs; instead she seems to have a superpower of identifying the one kid in a crowded space who will want to play. 

To the point though... Early elementary friendships are really fluid. Especially if your child and their friend know another child who is at the park, I think it serves all of them to be inclusive. In a week or two it's going to be a different pairing at the park or at school recess and someone who used to have a buddy will be feeling left out. Modeling inclusion when it's within your control (your kid's playdate and you are there supervising) sets the expectation that everyone be included when you're not there to guide it too. As noted, you can't do much about it when you're not in charge of that day's "in crowd." But I still think it's worth it to push inclusivity when you have the standing to do so.

Different story altogether if its a playdate in a private space; no need to invite a third kid to your house because they saw your kid + friend walk in the front door. But I agree that the public park is public: everyone can play there.

RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

Hi, I think it depends on the situation a lot. Are they actively excluding or just not including? Are they playing tag or something easy for a group, or did they bring a 2-person game or each bring a toy where if a third kid played, one of them wouldn't get to?

Some ideas: I've tried to get my kid alone for a moment and ask him how the other kid feels, and what do you want to do about that? One time my kid and his friend were hiding from another kid and being rude, and I pointed out how the excluded kid felt, asked him to look at her face and what do you think she's feeling, and do you think she'd feel better if you said you're sorry? And then he wanted to say sorry and be nicer, because he had just gotten caught up in the fun of running away from her with his friend. Then he was nice and inclusive. Actively excluding and being rude are I think worthy of intervening in some way, but not necessarily forcing the issue -- just teaching politeness in the same way you wouldn't let your child be rude in other settings. Another idea I have done is to model the inclusion. Like, I give the other kid some attention and maybe play a little and show that we can include that kid, and then the other kids will usually start playing together. Or I try to have us all play, and then I bow out and they keep playing together. Another option is to let them do whatever (as long as not really bad) so you're not hovering (esp if children are old enough to play without direct supervision), and speak with your kid later about the situation as a teaching opportunity. I think you can also teach your child to compromise, like if he/she specifically came to the park to play something with one other kid, your kid could tell that to the third child and say we can play with you in a little while but right now we're doing this (or vice versa -- we'll play with you a little while, but then we want to do this just the two of us because it was our plan and we didn't know you'd be here to play with). 

Ok, I just asked my 5-year old what to do in this situation, and he said you should play with the other kid, even if you have a toy - let them take a turn. And if there was a special secret thing, play with them first and then do whatever you're doing after. He says, "There can be a grownup solving the problem, but sometimes it won't work so a kid would be easier because the grownup might make the problem worse (because then the kids fight or are mad because they are forced to be together)." 

One thing I do when I'm not sure of what to make my kid do is to think of an analogous adult situation and what I'd do. Like, what if you meet a friend at a cafe and you see someone you know - you don't have to invite them to join your table but you wouldn't say "go away" either. And if they sit down or ask to sit down, you make them feel welcome, but if you had planned to discuss something private, like your friend's marriage, you might say after catching up for a while that they two of you had some business to discuss that we should probably get back to but it was so nice to run into you, glad we could catch up, etc. And then I think, Ok, so kids should probably be inclusive always unless there was something special they wanted to do only together, in which case they should do some of that and some of the other kid playing. 

Hope this helps!