They're bratty to a beloved friend
Children want friends; they want playdates. But they don't always understand how friendships work. Refusing to play or share isn't an indicator that your child is unsociable. She may not be mature enough to realize that how she acts affects how another child feels. "Sometimes you may need to coach your child verbally. For instance, when he shuts down and won't play with a friend, you might say, 'I need a break,'" says Kurcinka. "Take your child away from the action. Say, 'We can wait a minute before we go back.'" True, it can be a bit awkward to leave a little guest waiting in the playroom while your child disappears into her bedroom. But kids are awfully forgiving -- and, better still, they have short memories. Chances are, by the time the playdate ends, they'll have forgotten they were separated.
Mimi Wolfire, 2, of Washington, DC, loves the idea of a playdate but has a tough adjustment to the reality of having a guest in her home. "She won't refuse to participate, but she doesn't share," says her mom, Deanna. "She doesn't know how to say 'I feel shy' or 'I don't want you to touch that toy.' She doesn't know how to make sense of these feelings, let alone verbalize them."
Wolfire finds that initiating an activity -- like making cookies or doing art proj- ects -- often helps circumvent her daughter's prickly reaction to another child's presence. Not surprisingly, Mimi then finds the challenges of sharing and cooperating easier to manage. It's also a good idea to figure out times when your child tends to be on her best behavior -- say, after a nap or a meal -- and schedule playdates accordingly.
It takes effort, practice, and insight to identify and articulate even one's most basic needs. For young kids, this is an understandably tough task. And like adults, children can be masters of self-deception and denial. Sometimes they're distracted, sometimes they're overwhelmed. Most of the time, though, they just need a little help.
Alix Finkelstein is a freelance writer in Brooklyn.