Benefits of inclusive friendship and play
When children with disability learn to play well with other children, they’ll have:
- relationships that are fun
- other children they can rely on for support
- lots of new skills and talents – children are fantastic teachers of other children
- more confidence – children realise they have lots of special strengths and talents
- a sense of belonging and acceptance by peers
- new ways of talking, listening and communicating
- more social skills.
Children are also less likely to have behaviour problems later on. Many problems occur because a child hasn’t had a chance to learn social skills or have relationships with other children.
One of the things I care about the most is that she has friends, other children who accept her as she is, want to spend time with her and play with her. I want that just about more than anything else for her.
Typically developing children also benefit from getting to know children with disability. When the interactions go well, typically developing children can learn to:
- be comfortable with people with disability
- understand differences in people
- be helpful and empathetic.
Siblings of children with disability are kinder, more mature, more supportive, more responsible, more independent and often more empathetic than other children. Peers of children with disability might very well be similar.
Helping your child with disability learn to play and make friends
Teach your child social skills: some ideas
- Show your child by your own behaviour the kind of social behaviour you are encouraging (this is called modelling). Behaviour might include listening, compromising, working through conflicts, trying to see things from other people’s perspectives and showing empathy.
- Talk to your child about the skills you’re modelling, either at the time or later.
- Play with your child. In particular, encourage your child to share or trade toys with you.
- Read and talk about books that pay some attention to social skills.
- Teach your child some basic greetings (for example, hello, goodbye and smiling).
- Give your child lots of praise and encouragement when there is progress or for positive behaviour.
Keep things easy
If your child is around other children, provide some activities you know your child can do confidently. Children are much more likely to join in when they feel confident. When children are doing something they find difficult, they’re less likely to interact with other children.
Choose the right toys and materials
Choose toys and play materials that your child enjoys, and that other children are likely to enjoy as well.
Children under three might not be very good at sharing. If you have duplicates of favourite toys and enough interesting materials, you can get around this problem. Otherwise, try materials that let children choose whether they play alone, alongside one another or together. For example:
- materials for painting and drawing
- books, blocks and construction materials such as Duplo or Lego
- musical instruments
- props for imaginative or dramatic play.
Going for a walk and talking together can also be a low-pressure way of interacting.
Choose play materials, equipment and experiences that encourage interactions, but don’t demand that children play together. One of the least helpful ways to promote positive interactions is to force them!
Make an area where it’s easy to play
If you’re inviting children over to your house to play, you can set up an area to help things go well. A good environment has the following qualities:
- a space that is large enough – try not to make it too crowded
- different spaces where children can either play together or alone
- various materials so that kids can choose activities and create experiences that suit them
- not too noisy or too busy.
Help out if needed
If your child is getting into fights or having other difficulties, let your child know you’re there to help if needed. If you think your child might be able to sort out the problem, give your child a chance to try before you step in.
Pay attention when things are going well
Let your child know that you notice and are pleased when things are going well with other children. Grown-ups often leave children alone when they’re playing well and only step in when they aren’t. Praise for good play will help your child learn about what to do in social situations.
Mix and match
Give your child opportunities to be with both older and younger children as well as children the same age. Also, being with one other child might be enough. Group play, especially in large groups, can sometimes be overwhelming, particularly for younger children.
Check out our My Neighbourhood forums
. Here you can connect with parents and children who live in your area, and find people with situations similar to yours.
Don’t expect too much
Children like interacting with other children, but they can find it tiring and overwhelming, especially for lengthy periods. Children like to spend time alone too.
There are some children who will always be more comfortable on their own. If children have the social skills they need, they can choose to be alone if they want.
Social skills increase as children get older, so match your expectations to your child’s age.
Accept that things won’t always go according to plan. We don’t all make friends with everyone we meet, or get along with everyone we know. Try to avoid overreacting when your child is ignored, or left out, or when your child behaves in a socially inappropriate way.
Learning social skills is a lifelong process. In time your child will make friends.
Challenges for children with disability
Children with disability can have trouble making friends because of:
physical challenges that make it hard to follow friends around or play games that require good coordination
learning challenges that make games too complicated for them to play
behaviour challenges that make it hard for them to share or wait
communication challenges that make it hard for them to express themselves or understand other children.
In general, children with disability are less likely to interact with other people than children without disability. They might prefer to play by themselves and look on as other children interact and play. They’re also less likely to approach other children to play.
Children with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to play either alone or alongside other children than with them. Children who have a communication disorder seem to interact the least with other children. Children who don’t know how to work out differences and conflicts constructively or recognise the rights of others have trouble being accepted by their peers.