Have you ever asked your 3-year-old who he or she plays with at preschool or child care and they respond “nobody”? This makes grown-ups feel uneasy. We cherish friendships and playmates, and we believe that for our child to be happy, he or she must interact with other children.
Here’s the real deal – A 3-year-old child may be at a stage of play that does not include social interaction with other children in the manner that most adults regard young children’s friendships. In social play, most typically growing children go through stages. Mildred Parten, a researcher, studied young children during play and proposed six stages of play. You can refer to these as your child grows to gain a better understanding of their social skills while playing. We need to let go of our adult expectations about what childhood friendships should look like and understand that a child who says “nobody plays with me” may be in a stage of play with little social interaction. We (your child’s teachers) observe these stages, assist children in progressing to the next stage when they are ready, and then provide social and emotional support as they build new friendships in the last stage of play (cooperative play).
Keep in mind that while these phases are sequential, children may return to previous stages of play even after they have progressed to the next! The ages are just guidelines; everyone learns and grows at their own speed.