encouraging children to play together:
From 'me' to 'we'

As you probably know from cries of "Mine!" and "I won, I won!" young children aren’t great at sharing or coming second. Fortunately empathy and cooperation will develop as they grow, but you can give your child a head start.

friends and family

Toddlers will play alongside each other, rather than together, but it’s a great chance to see them starting to play cooperatively with their peers. This can also be incredibly reassuring if you're preparing for a second baby.

Those with siblings are naturally more at ease with other children but they can also be quite dominant. Encouraging sharing within the family can help your children play well with others at nursery and playgroup.

learning to take turns

Taking turns is a helpful way to stop children squabbling over a favourite toy. Sharing is a pretty alien concept for pre-schoolers, but they understand the idea of 'having a go' with a toy. You may need to act as referee, and be prepared to remove the toy if turn-taking isn’t working.

Try not to step in too often though. Children need to learn to share and care for others, and they can’t do that properly if they’re always being directed by a grown-up.

healthy competition

Small children want to win everything. Learning the old saying 'it’s all about taking part' is something that comes with age, and it’s up to us parents to teach by example. Praise everyone who runs in a race for example, not just the winners.

Most children have an inbuilt and rather black-and-white sense of right and wrong. This means they often prefer definite rules to free-form play when it comes to competitive games. Build on this developing sense of fair play by establishing clear rules for games and sports.

supporting shy children

Some children are naturally more dominant than others and tend to take the lead in play. This makes it harder for shy children to get involved. As with the toy sharing example, suggest that they take turns to choose what they play: ten minutes of Superheroes, then ten minutes of Princesses for example.

If you’re hosting a children’s party, think beyond the usual musical statues and encourage cooperative activities to diffuse any potential upset. Mask making, pot painting, or just dancing reduce the competitive element and get all children playing together.

developing empathy

Empathy takes a while to develop. After all, seeing something from someone else’s point of view can be tricky even as an adult. Most children are able to understand that others have feelings too by the time they are four or five years old. You can gently encourage them with this by asking them how they would feel in certain situations.

If your child seems unable to show empathy, it may be that they are on the autism spectrum. If your child is really struggling to communicate with others, let your GP or health visitor know.