Preschoolers negotiate as fiercely as used car salesmen. All the communicating that goes on just to set up a proper game of “house” is amazing. Roles are passed out, scripts worked on and then, stop, that’s not right, change it all up!
Listening in as my daughter plays with the neighborhood girls, it would seem they would have more fun alone. One girl proposes a scenario, the next dissects it and tells the other what to say. Then another girl goes on to negotiate a different context altogether. The entire process is exhausting! Somehow though, all this communication is perfectly normal with young children.
Preparing and negotiating is part of the fun
Researchers have discovered that as children negotiate in play they are developing problem-solving strategies as well as exercising creativity. The negotiations themselves are a big part of the play. This type of sociodramatic play is full of metacommunication. In other words, it is defined by communicating what will be communicated. Handing out roles and preparing the script is sometimes all my daughter and her friend do during the course of their time together. And yet, they are completely satisfied with this play acting.
With all that said, what if your child is not adept at this form of communication?
Socially competent preschoolers can jump into nearly any situation and fit in, those who are shy may have more trouble, but you can help them along with a little metacommunication of your own.
Use storytelling to increase social skills
One way to do this is to build their imagination through storytelling. You may already be reading books to your preschooler, but making up stories on the spot is a great way to help them see how to use creative problem-solving to jump into a playtime situation.
Start a story sparked by something you see on a walk together or to pass the time on a car ride. Have your child fill in blanks, or alternate telling “good” and “bad” things that could happen. For example, a story might begin with child going to a circus, “that’s good,” but, on the way they fall into a mud puddle, “that’s bad.” Keep it going, sometimes offering a good part and a bad part so that one is not stuck with just the negatives of a story. Although, preschoolers are often good at coming up with funny problems for characters.
The right and wrong way of joining a group of preschool children
Practicing this style of communication will help when a preschooler is trying to break into playing with a group of children. Popular wisdom may say to simply walk up, introduce yourself and ask if you can join in. This will often result in a big fat “NO.” But, with a little persistence and creativity, preschoolers can learn to offer a scenario that adds to the play of the other children. For example if a girl wanted to play with my daughter and her friend, simply asking to be a part is not often enough. If she came up with an idea that fit in to what they were planning, or better yet, two or three new ideas, then she would probably be allowed to join in.
Preschool relationships are complex. Just like teenagers, there are really no easy answers when problems occur. Offer a listening ear and a big hug when communications break down, and know, this is not the end. Preschool is just a starter course in how to deal with peers.
More by Sylvie Branch:
He Can Build a Website, but Can He Build a Dog House?
TV Free Activities for Preschoolers and Their Work-at-home Parents
Poetry Through the Years: Tips for Incorporating Poetry into Your Child’s Life