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When She Won't Play With Others

It was circle time at preschool, but that didn't matter to 3-year-old Ellie Ball of Des Moines. She played by herself in the toy kitchen.

Some kids, like Ellie, are chatty at home but reserved around other kids. But there's no need to worry right now that they're too shy or will have a hard time making friends when they're older, says Lawrence Shapiro, Ph.D., author of The Secret Language of Children. Your child may go against the crowd for many reasons: She simply may not be interested in what the group's doing, may be captivated by a toy, or feel nervous because Mom isn't there.

To help her learn to open up:

Read her unspoken cues. If she looks happy playing alone, let her be, says Shapiro. After a while, you can suggest she try something else with other kids.

Offer an irresistible group activity. Toddlers flock to fun and respond better to something like "Let's play Duck, Duck, Goose" than "Let's go play with Nathan." Or steer her to the sandbox, where others are already digging.

Mix it up. Kids need the chance to hang out with people of all ages. Your child might prefer spending time with pals who are younger  -- who are like living dolls  -- or older (because they're nurturing).

Check your expectations. Go easy on her, and yourself. You don't have to insist she participate. But if you find that by 3½ she's still very shy and won't join others at all, you may want to speak with her doctor.

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