Question:  I currently work in an extended daycare program for children aged five to twelve.  It is hard to keep all children of these varying ages interested and engaged at all times.  However, I have a great team that works together to meet all the children’s needs except for one child.  This particular child will not communicate with anyone nor will he play with any other kids.  When he arrives he sits in the corner and refuses to follow any direction.  He seems to be very shy, angry, defiant, and sad at the same time.  I know he receives certain services during school, but I was wondering what to do with the child while he is in daycare.  Do I let him be or keep attempting to get him involved even though it angers him?

Myrna Shure:  This is a difficult situation because this boy is no doubt suffering from a mental health dysfunction that requires professional care, which he appears to be getting.  Not knowing the age of this child, it is possible that finding out his favorite music, perhaps by asking his parents, and playing it softly in the background may soothe him.  

You want to avoid putting any pressure on him with statements as, “Come join us,” or “Come on over and play with the boys over there.”  In a situation like this, more subtle techniques will work better.  Offer him an age-appropriate toy, such as an action figure, a puppet, or a stuffed animal that is already in the classroom.  Let him just hold it.  The next day bring out another toy.  Show him how the two action figures, puppets, or stuffed animals can play with each other, or talk with each other, and then offer him a chance to have the two toys talk or play with each other.   I have found that children will often talk through a puppet when they won’t talk themselves.  I have also found that children who won’t express their feelings will show them by having the puppet make a happy, sad or angry face.  Once the puppets are talking, this could serve as a bridge to the boy expressing his feelings, and in time, talking with other children.

Becoming engaged in activities and relating to other children will take time, but starting with activities that interest him, away from other children at first, might be a good way to start.