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When Three's a Crowd

Zoe Weaver, 4, had so much fun whenever a pal came over to play that her mom, Krista, tried inviting two kids to the house at once. But instead of heightening the thrill, it created chaos. "One girl would get left out, and after I got her back in the mix, another would be cast aside. I just couldn't win," the Homewood, IL, mother says.

Preschoolers often have a tough enough time sharing toys  -- sharing people can just be too much for them, according to Adelaide Robb, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC.

The three's-a-crowd quandary seems to affect especially girls because they tend to engage in role-playing games, such as house, which involve plenty of interpersonal interaction. "Boys at this age have the same sharing issues," says Dr. Robb. "You just aren't as aware of it because they're busy running or kicking a ball instead of socializing."

Most kids get better at playing in groups of three by the time they've entered first or second grade. Until then, remember:

Two (or four)'s company. A playdate with an even number of kids means there's less likelihood that someone will be left out of the fun.

Some activities are better than others. If you're stuck with a threesome, set them up with a board game, cards, or a craft.

Be ready to come to the rescue. Get the kids started on a new activity if you see trouble brewing, or step in as the "fourth playmate" so everyone gets their fair share of attention.