Shy Kids and Playdates

Parents of shy children often claim that their children need to be pushed to do things, or else they won’t do very much. So, they plan a lot of activities for their children. They schedule. They push. They control.

Although I’m not a fan of controlling kids lives, I’m somewhat sympathetic to this point of view regarding shy kids.

You see, my son Marco (6) can be very shy, and he’s not very good at being friends with other kids. On a typical day at recess at school, he just stands alone watching other kids play. At home, he hardly ever expresses a desire to find other kids to play.

Meanwhile, all sorts of studies show that kids need friends to be happy and to develop well psychologically.

So, given Marco’s shyness and disinterest in making friends, my wife and I do get involved in his social life. After our initial resistance to the idea of playdates, we took the advice of his preschool teacher and started scheduling them with other parents regularly.

Sometimes, when we’re arranging these playdates, it seems like we’re becoming one of those controlling parents I so often criticize. So how are we any different? In other words, how can I reconcile managing multiple playdates for Marco with my free play philosophy?

  1. lack of adult involvement: While we’re doing a lot of planning to make the playdates happen, once they start, adults are usually not involved. Thus, once the playdate starts, the kids engage in free play.
  2. neighborhood kids: Most of the kids we set up playdates with are in the immediate neighborhood, so we’re setting up the possibility for Marco or the other kid to initiate play spontaneously. In fact, a few times, my wife and I have let Marco go to one boy’s house on his own and knock on his door. We hope and expect that these child-initiated play sessions will become more prevalent, until we put ourselves out of our playdate planning jobs.
  3. long play sessions w/ loose ending times: We avoid scheduling playdates where we’re sandwiching a slot of time between two other appointments. That way, once they’ve started, the kids can relax and just let the play happen.
  4. neighbor kids are welcome: Our priority is on play, not date. So, we like it when, during a playdate at our house, neighbor kids come over unannounced. Marco and his one playdate friend should never get the feeling that they’re supposed to play alone together the entire time. More kids enable them to do more fun things, so they’re welcome.

The bottom line is that we are using playdate culture to get Marco together with other kids. We schedule these because other parents schedule their kids’ lives quite a bit, but we want the playdates to feel as carefree and spontaneous as possible. We hope that, eventually, Marco will develop good enough friendships with kids that they can negotiate playtime themselves. In the meantime, we’re giving him this little nudge.

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2 Responses to Shy Kids and Playdates

  1. kathteach says:

    Hi Mike, I really enjoy your articles. My older son is four and has autism. He has many scheduled therapies such as music therapy, social skills groups, child development sessions, and more. He hasn’t played much with “neurotypical” kids outside of school. My husband and I are brainstorming ways we can create unstructured play in our neighborhood and your articles are such an inspiration. I hope I can come back here and tell you we tried something you suggested with success.
    Katherine C.