Who are the children like Anna who happily play alone, avoiding most group activities? Why are they loners? How worried about them should we be?
- Of course, there is no single answer to these questions that will apply to every preschooler. While we are, in general, a gregarious species, it takes many children a while to feel comfortable sharing and cooperating in group situations. Some may be such newcomers to group play that they prefer to stick with their familiar loner style. These children are often very happy to play by themselves in extremely imaginative ways. It is also possible that a child is simply quite absorbed by his own creative ideas.
- Other loners might come from large and busy families, in which privacy and solo activity is a luxury they experience for the first time at school.
- Only in rare situations is there reason for concern about a child who shuns group activities at the start of school. In most cases, the inclination to stay alone dissipates over the early months in a classroom. Teachers and parents are advised to go slowly when introducing such children to group play. And they should do everything possible to be sure these children know they are admired and loved. Take special note of what types of activities each child enjoys and has success with, and be sure to compliment him or her about efforts and accomplishments. Sometimes it helps to try bringing children with similar interests together on a project.
- Keep in mind that group interaction requires comfort with a if multitude of sensations. Movement, touch, noise, and visual-spatial complexity all happening at once can be trying for some children. Some might be more comfortable with words, but have difficulty with spatial relations. It's important to study the circumstances that seem most distressing to a child who chooses to play alone. If he or she is fine with one or two other children, relates easily, cooperates, and has fun, but can't tolerate the crowds, there is less reason for concern than in a case of total indifference to, or intolerance of, socializing.
- If a child has a friend and their relationship is going well, be patient about larger-group play. Teachers may even make an effort to divide the class into small groups for games, projects, or snacks. Very gradually, add one more child to the mix, and ultimately support the small groups within larger groups.
- A much more worrisome situation is one in which the child you are concerned about avoids relating to even one child or adult over weeks or months. With such a child, the family and school should arrange for a consultation with an expert in early childhood mental health.