Kids play in different ways as they grow. Babies play very differently from toddler who play differently from preschoolers. So before you go thinking your kid is anti-social or something, check out these totally normal, age-appropriate types of play:
- Independent play:, Before they turn two, most kids couldn't care less about playing with other children. Sure, it's fun to get them together on "play dates," but your baby is probably happy just to do her own thing.
- Onlooker play: This observational type of play teaches your toddler how to act when he's ready to join in the fun. Watching the big kids play is a great way for him to learn the politics of the playground (no stealing shovels!).
- Solitary play: This type of play is just what it sounds like—solo play. You might be tempted to entertain your toddler every moment, but try to give him some space to figure things out on his own. It's good for his development to play alone. Of course, it goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway), don't leave him unattended in a room that isn't kid-safe.
- Parallel play: When your kid is playing side-by-side with his BFF, he's engaged in parallel play. It may not be obvious, but your kid is learning loads about socializing and playing just by building blocks next to another kid. This sort of play will also teach him basic concepts and rules of play (taking turns, not grabbing). Don't pressure your kid to play with his "friend." Chances are, they're having a ball!
- Associative play: Around age 3 or 4, your kid may be playing in a group, but still doing his own thing. In other words, a group of kids may be playing together in a sand box, but they're all building their own sand castles. This is an important stage since it teaches kids how to cooperate and possibly start making real friends. It also helps with language development and problem solving (how do we dig all the way to China?!).
- Competitive play: By the time your child is 5, chances are he'll be ready for real play dates and will probably be able to understand the rules of basic board games (Candy Land anyone?). This competitive sort of play can help develop self-esteem and ultimately, foster real friendship (but be prepared for tears if your kid loses!).
Just because your child is hesitant to play with another child doesn't mean he's anti-social or shy. It's quite common for young kids not to know how to make friends. So don't forget the most important rule of play: It should be fun!