Kids Aren’t Encouraged to Play With Other Kids

encouraging kids to play together

Hey Mommas! I want to talk about something today that I observed over the weekend. My son is an only child and he’s 3. He is at an age where he loves playing with other kids, but because he has no siblings, he doesn’t have the opportunity all that often. He really looks forward to outings because he gets the chance to interact and play with other kids. However, something I noticed this weekend has me a little bummed out for him. I am wondering if anyone else has observed or experienced this. Kids aren’t encouraged to play with other kids anymore. Why is this? Let me explain our weekend experience with this.

My little man, excited before skating

The Experience

On Sunday, we took my son ice skating, which he normally loves to do. Usually he bails on me and my husband in favor of skating around with other kids. Younger or older, he doesn’t care. He is a very social boy. He has no issue going up to kids and asking them to play. This is something we encourage.

What I noticed this weekend, though, was that other kids are NOT social. While ice skating, there were tons of other kids. They were only skating with their siblings or friends that came with them. My son approached other groups a couple of times and was ignored. It really bummed him out, and in turn, it bummed me and my husband out.

Afterward, as a kind of consolation, we took him to a local playground. We figured since it was a nice day (rare in Michigan at this time of year) it would be packed with kids for him to play with. And it was! There were maybe 30 other kids at this playground. However, once again, they were all paired off with siblings or they were only playing with their parents. I watched my outgoing, social, sweet little boy approach other children and try to play with them, only to be blown off and ignored.

Mom Guilt and Asking Why

Cue the mom guilt, since my son is an only child and may remain that way. Now as I am watching my sad little boy play by himself on the outer edges of groups of kids, I am kicking myself that he doesn’t have a sibling and built-in playmate like the rest of them. But then reality sets in.

Why are these kids not socializing? I don’t understand why kids aren’t encouraged to play with other kids anymore by their parents? Both my husband and I grew up with our parents pushing us out the door to “go play.” When did that change? Is this a product of the death of “free play” and over-scheduled families? Does this behavior shift stem from the age of playdates and prearranged meet-ups?

I am really looking for answers here, because I truly don’t know.

The State of the World

This lead me to think about how the world is these days for kids. The bullying, the drugs, the violence in schools… and I will say that I am honestly concerned. I wonder if I am observing the start of what ends as the horrible cycle of how things seem to be now.

Kids aren’t encouraged to play with other kids anymore. Will this lead to kids being left out? To kids being bullied? To the slew of bad things that can spiral from that? I’m concerned. I want all this craziness to stop. I want schools and public events to be safe for kids. Kids need to grow up supporting and loving each other. Here is what I am doing to combat these things.

The Change I Can Make

Kids aren’t encouraged to play with other kids anymore. Fine, but mine will be. My child’s encouraged to try and reach out to other kids. I encourage him to make a new friend. I am teaching him to include everyone and treat them with kindness.

I’m raising my child to respect his peers, to reach out, to help out, and to be a friend. I will teach him that you don’t have to be best friends with every person you meet, but you don’t have to be nasty, or rude, or even down right mean.

In the End

I don’t know that any of this will actually change the world or how things are in it, but they will change one thing: my child. As a parent, that’s the only thing I can do. I can teach him to live in a positive way, and hope that maybe this trend will catch on.

Kids aren’t encouraged to play with other kids anymore…but maybe they should be.

These are just my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

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About Lisa Wingerter

I'm a 32 year old, married, stay-at-home-mom from the Metro Detroit area

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50 Comments on “Kids Aren’t Encouraged to Play With Other Kids”

  1. LOVE this post! Thanks for sharing your insights and I agree completely. I will continue to encourage my children to be kind and reach out to make new friends as well.

  2. This is true and sad. Don’t feel guilty though. Even if you had another child they would then be playing with each other but no one else. I agree with encouraging your child to go and play with others. I always did and continue to. If kids are running around playing tag, I tell him to go join. Keep doing what you are doing. I understand. Rachel from Explorekidtalk.com

  3. I think the root of it is that children are not being taught to have compassion. They are ultimately not kind, and our job as parents is to teach them to look beyond themselves and care for others. Good article!

  4. Your son is such a cutie! As a mom of just one (and maybe never two), I completely understand the Mom guilt! To top it off, my little one doesn’t have any cousins or family even close to his age. I love this article and am going to try to raise my son with similar characteristics to be friendly and kind to everyone!

  5. Oh wow that’s terrible, I’m sorry! My kids are older but they were always encouraged to play with others and I think that’s what helped them to become compassionate adults. Hopefully you’ve just stumbled across some bad parenting; maybe as he gets older he’ll attract kids who are social butterflies like him?

  6. As someone who grew up an only child, and also as someone who moved around a lot as a child, I can say that children’s friendliness varies based on where you live, and the exact venue. For instance, when I lived in Florida, kids were really friendly in most places. When I lived outside Philadelphia, that wasn’t the case at all. I learned to use my imagination a lot because I was so often alone. Just keep taking him different places and you should eventually find the friendly kids.

  7. SPOT ON!
    There was a post circulating on one of the mom groups on fb and they eventually stopped the comments. This mom faced an exact same situation with her kid as you. And it infuriates me. After expressing my outrage and stating that I would never allow my kids to dismiss another child, some other mom was pretty rude and said sth along the lines, oh well, kids at that age don’t have to share and shouldn’t be expected to engage with other kids if they don’t feel like it. Wait, what?!
    I can understand the not sharing part, take turns, whatever.
    But you are telling me it’s ok for your child to dismiss another child if he or she asked to play?
    In my world, that deserves a slap and please note, I have never hit any of my kids.
    But you know what, I don’t have to, because I raise them as decent and KIND human beings. From very early age I teach them what’s ok and what’s not ok because THIS IS MY JOB! My job is not to sit on the sidelines and watch my kid grow up to be an asshole.
    Rant over, and I’m truly sorry your son had to go through this. It’s ok, it will only teach him to be tough in life and hopefully how not to take shit from other people. There is a lesson to be learned in every situation…

  8. Thanks for sharing this! We are also in Michigan and we take advantage of every nice warm weather during the colder months. Most of the time, my daughter plays alone too. Sometimes, when we are out somewhere public, some kids try to play with her. With all the craziness happening now, we can’t blame parents teaching their kids to just play with the kids they know. However, I do encourage my child to play with other kids if in a playground or other play area.

  9. Good point! My kiddos are in daycare and it’s highly focused on there but I guess I don’t totally encourage it at home.

  10. Great post! While my older son has High Functioning Autism and has a hard time playing with other kids, my younger son is a complete social butterfly and tends to encounter this same issue when we go out places. He tends to just play with his big brother when other kids won’t play with him, but I could see him so upset if he didn’t have big brother around. I think parents don’t make their kids play with other kids anymore and it’s sad. I try to facilitate my kids playing with others, even my autistic son who doesn’t like to do it. And to play with other kids that are being nice and want to play with them.

  11. This is a great post! I’m the mom of 4 daughters, all very close in age, and this is conversation we have frequently. They’ve grown up always playing with each other, but we constantly encourage them to always be on the lookout for other friends who look lonely and might want to join in their play. Since our girls have never known a life without each other, and the constant playmates a big family comes with, I think it’s critical for them to know that what they have is not everyone’s reality, and it benefits both them and others to be inclusive and welcoming. It’s my hope these early lessons will pave the way for an anti-bullying attitude and a compassionate mentality.
    Keep up the good work, Momma! Definitely keep encouraging your son to play with other kids 🙂

  12. I hate your little one had this experience. But I agree I notice the same behaviors amongst children in South Carolina where I am too. Much like your son, my daughter will just keep trying and consequently be turned down. Eventually she just plays with her self. It says a lot for the other kids however. What social or team player skills are they developing? How will they treat others in the future? Will they be so in tuned to what they know that they fear or shy away from the unknown? I just wonder…great post!

  13. This is a thought provoking post. I am not a parent but I can hear how you feel in this post. I am not sure why this is happening where you are. He may have the opportunity to meet with other kids and play with them by doing something by joining a club or other social groups where children can socialize easily. I hope this isn’t something that is the norm where you live.

  14. I loved this post! Sadly, I was the kid who gave the cold shoulder when I was little. Not because I felt I was better, but because I was so scared to interact with other strangers. I often had a sibling nearby, and stuck to playing with just them. I want to teach my daughter to always be looking for someone to include, someone to talk to. In todays day I think everyone just needs to be noticed. Your little one sounds like such a sweetheart!

  15. Agree so much! It is so wonderful that your little one is so outgoing! I hope he doesn’t lose that spark or get discouraged.
    I was an only child and am a complete introvert as an adult. It was easy to play with strangers as a kid 20 years ago, but families are so closed off now and with social media spreading fear about child abduction, trafficking, and bad influences, I think parents have become such helicopters. I hope you find some more parents like you and that you all encourage your kids to have some real human interactions.
    Thank you for this!

  16. You have to keep teaching your son to do the right thing even if other parents aren’t. Encourage him to play with others, and maybe other parents will follow your lead. Do NOT feel mom guilt! It could also be the age of the kids your son was trying to interact with, or that siblings tend to cling to each other, which I know I did as a child.

  17. Thanks for such a deep and thought provoking blog post. Maybe this state of affairs has something to do with the ‘beware of strangers’ message being taken too far. I hope these experiences don’t dampen your child’s outgoing and compassionate nature. I always told my little sister to look out for the kids that have no friends or who appear to be lonely and be a friend to them.

  18. This gives me something to think about! I have one child who is very outgoing, and makes friends everywhere we go. My older child can be a little more standoffish. I’ve always just attributed it to their different personalities, and haven’t really paid much attention to whether or not other children approach them. I’ll be on the lookout for it now, though!

  19. Yes, I totally agree! As kids get older and start going to school they get pickier and pickier about who they play with. Although my boys have each other to play with in times of severe boredom, they would rather play with their own friends. Especially my oldest who is 6 years older than his brother and is in the teenage years and really wants nothing to do with his younger bro. But I’ve always encouraged my kids to find friends and play. I see more and more kids being too shy to talk to other kids as well as other parents “sheltering” their kids. I agree we should all be encouraging our kids to play with others. It helps them build communication skills as well as working with others. Hopefully, this can bring some awareness to other parents to encourage their own kids to go meet and play with a stranger. Honestly, I think as adults we should do this too 😉

  20. There are several complicated answers to your question, but you’ve made a valid observation. Parents are just different today. Personally, I always encourage my children to play with other children, but they’re only 11mos and 2yrs. If we’re at a structured event, such as gym class or story time at the library, then I know that there is a mutual understanding between all families that our children are expected to interact (and they do!). I don’t randomly go to the park with that same mindset because every parent brings their kids with different intentions. I know it’s upsetting to feel like your child is being rejected. Have you looked into any local mommy groups? I joined one in my town a few months ago and they have scheduled playdates almost daily. That could be a fun way for your son to meet friends and see them regularly!

  21. Absolutely agree.. It’s very important t for kids to socialize and play with other kids.. Apart from siblings and parents. Helps to develop social skills as well.. Loved ur post.. XOXO

  22. I had many of the same thoughts and concerns when my boys were your son’s age. I would like to encourage your with this though: your son is doing the right thing by reaching out to others, and you are doing the right thing by encouraging it. It’s so heartbreaking to watch the person you love most in this world get rejected. But know that maybe, no probably, the reason those other kids only play with their siblings and ignore your son is that THEY are uncomfortable, shy, or lacking in the social skills that your son already has.
    I think that “screen-in-face syndrome” is one of the big problems that young people face and why so many of them don’t know how to play with other kids. There has always been bullying, drugs, and violence in schools, it’s just more public now, which makes it more dangerous. Please take heart though that there are other parents out there doing what you are doing, and your son will eventually find their kids. In the meantime, he is SO fortunate to have the parents that he does. 🙂

  23. I feel like a lot of the issues that we are having today, the school shootings included, is because kids are so isolated. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  24. You’re right, kids aren’t being socialized! Nor are they being taught social skills any more. Everything is based around screens and political correctness that we are doing a disservice to our kids. I’m with you! My kids are encouraged to socialize too!

  25. My daugher is very social and usually engages with other children. She does have a sister, but loves to make new friends. I do try to encourage her to play with new kids because I think it is very important. Your story of your son’s experience makes me sad and I will be sure to make sure she is trying to play with others!

  26. – and have you tried some scripting, “hi, my name is ____. Would you like to play?” Or “my name is _____ and I would like to play with you.”

    Sometimes being direct with kids (especially different aged kids) works better than just following them around and trying to join in.

    That way he is using social norms to initiate play the other kids rather than just attaching himself to them. No one wants to feel stalked or butted in on.

    I bet lots of kid’s response would be “sure” partially because kids don’t like setting their own boundaries and saying no to peers (or near-peers) because of all the social pressure to please and placate other people. So if he asks directly It might be easier.

    I know your heart breaks for your little one. No one wants their kids’ feelings hurt. That’s why teaching Simple social skills is so important.

  27. Unfortunately the world seems to be going more and more this way…
    I have it the other way round though. My son is very shy. It takes me what seems forever until he goes and plays with other kids… We are pretty lucky where we live and kids are still very open to others joining (not all of them).
    But with my son it is either a long time before he joins or a kid like your son to come and ask him to play… also very frustrating for a mum

  28. Sadly, this has become very true and I have noticed it with my own children. We have even had trouble with getting other children to attend their birthday parties and such. Great post!

  29. I’m sad thinking of your experience! I try to encourage my kids to include and be kind, but I do know sometimes I also get focused on my parent goals of encouraging their sibling friendship. This isn’t with any intent to exclude, but also super important. I try to remind my kids to look for those who don’t have someone to play with, but I also remind them if they feel rejected that it’s okay if kids don’t always want to play as a large group and just want to play with one person at a time. My kids are really social, and I think we can forget that some kids prefer one on one play and that’s okay- they just need to express it in a loving way. Great things to think about- encourages me to be even more aware on the playground!

  30. YES!
    I have 3 children, but they enjoy playing with new people sometimes. They love each other and are the best of friends, but who doesn’t need a break from the same-old? I have tried taking them to the park, and it’s as if all the other kids are stuck in a bubble with whoever they came with. I have had parents look at me like I had grown 9 heads because I invited their child to play with me and mine. I know that the world isn’t what it used to be, and parents have to keep their guard up, but why does a child’s social life have to suffer as a result?

  31. I feel your pain, Mom. My son is an only child too and it can be hard at times to see him longing for a playmate and not having one. I always encourage him to approach other kids with a friendly “hello, can I play with you?” Behind him, I’m nauseous with worry wondering if they will hurt his feelings. It has happened and I’ve given him plenty of hugs and kisses to make up for it. Thankfully, children are resilient and always will be with our encouragement. Something to note though, when I have Baby #2 (I can’t believe I said when, ha ha!), I’ll make sure both children have other friends so they aren’t attached at the hip and don’t isolate potential friends. My kids will have a significant age gap, so that should be easy enough. But if all else fails, they’ll have each other.

  32. My kiddo is 11, but I can’t tell you how ma y play dates I’ve taken him to (back in the day) and the kids just do their own thing. This happened at parks usually. Wild. Kids these days are different.

  33. I feel like this is a generational issue. With my older kids this was not a problem. I am in my late 30’s. I had my first child when I was very young. In the late 90’s early 2000’s this was not an issue. I remember having a party for the oldest (he is 21 now) he was five and it was at Chuck E Cheese. I also recall having parties there for my almost 16-year-old. Parents would drop the kids off and leave. Not all of them but most. Now the parents stay. Its like people are too afraid. I feel like if the parents know one another they encourage play but if you are a stranger forget about it. I have a five-year old and the kid is so lonely because of this. The kids at the park play with the kids of their mothers friends only. The only time a kid will play their an older mom like me. I don’t get it.

  34. We moved overseas for a while and then when we came back moved to a different city, and I have had the hardest time making mommy friend since them. It seems like everyone has their friend group that they have been with for years, and there’s no room for any new people!

    Like mothers like children, I think that’s the same thing that you’re experiencing. My son is like yours, extremely social. However, we definitely have had a problem with cliques in different areas. Finally it seems that we’re making some good friends in our area! Best of luck to you guys 🙂

  35. There should be more kindness for sure. My boys would never turn down another kid to play, but they do have social issues (autism, spd) where they have a hard time inviting others to play.

  36. Interesting observations. As a mom of grown and older kids, I have a few thoughts. Some of the other kids may not desire to play with other kids yet. One of my boys didn’t even seem to notice kids his age until he was around 7 or 8. And that was ok. I tried to create scenarios where he had “friends” to play with but he has always been very selective with his social time which I’ve learned to respect. Now my daughter is super social and loves making friends everywhere like yo r son:)

    Another thing that may be coming into play is that kids are so segregated by age now that most do not see potential friends in anyone that is not there exact age. We belong to a large homeschool group and church and the kids are taught to care for the younger ones and play with them more. It is really neat to see the children interacting with other kids of various ages.

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