It can feel worrisome when you see your child not interested in things other kids seem to love. Here’s what to do when your child doesn’t like what other kids typically do.
My family got together at my mom’s house for a swimming party. “Perfect!” I thought. “This will be a great opportunity for the kiddo to splash around in the pool.” With his swim shorts and sunscreen packed and ready, we headed to my mom’s.
Except when we arrived, he took one look at the pool and belted, “No—don’t want to swim!”
I wasn’t too surprised. He had been fighting a few of his baths, crying if even a few drops of water touched his face. He wasn’t exactly splashing around in the bathtub and playing with bubbles.
Still, I couldn’t understand how he can enjoy the pool the last two summers, only to dismiss it this time. He loved swimming, and now when I had wanted to enjoy the pool with him, he refused.
Swimming wasn’t the only fun activity he (and my other kids) refused to participate in.
Take dancing. While other kids moved their hips at any hint of a beat, he wanted nothing to do with it. He also didn’t like playing on the swings or going down the slides at the playground. And he couldn’t stand walking barefoot around the house, much less when we went to the beach.
What to do when your child doesn’t like what other kids like
Maybe you can relate. You’re so excited to have fun and want to introduce your child to activities most other kids enjoy. But her refusal to participate sends the thrill out the door and makes you feel resentful instead. Instead of playing with other kids at playdates, she’s off exploring on her own away from others.
But we have it a bit backward, don’t you think? It shouldn’t be about us (or our own emotions).
Sure, I loved swimming and dancing, and I assumed all kids love to sit in a swing. But one insight I learned is that this is about our kids’ temperaments and development. The next time your child refuses an activity you expected her to enjoy, remember the following tips and lessons:
1. There’s no “right” way to play
To play is to explore, create, and expand the imagination—in other words, you won’t find one “right” way to play. Imagine if kids had to abide by a certain way to play for just about everything.
Yes, certain tools and gear have their usual purposes—most kids do go down the slide. But if your child enjoys throwing rocks and nuts down the slide so she can watch them spin down, then that’s her way of exploring and creating. She’s found a way to play with a slide, even if not in the most conventional way during a play date.
So long as it’s safe and appropriate, let her play to her imagination’s content. This is her way of processing the world and having fun as well.
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2. Not everyone likes the same activities
We all have preferences, kids and adults alike. One child can’t get enough of soccer and hockey, while another doesn’t want anything to do with sports. Some might find sitting in a swing the highlight of the day, while others would rather pull and twist the chains.
The next time you feel disappointed with your child’s preferences, remember that you have your own, too. I couldn’t give my son grief for not enjoying the swimming pool when my husband would rather stay away from swimming as well. We can’t expect kids to enjoy everything we introduce them to.
3. Your child will likely outgrow it
Step back and think about what you’re upset about. Is it your child’s refusal to set foot on the beach? Her disinterest in looking at animals at the zoo or her fear of riding a train? That she doesn’t throw the ball as well as her cousin?
More than likely, these are petty issues to worry about, not serious situations that will affect her life.
However horrible these quirks might feel right now, rest assured that she’ll likely outgrow them. Most fears disappear as kids grow curious and learn more about their world. Keep that in mind as you get frustrated or assume your child will “always” be this way.
Picture her a few years from now: Can you imagine her still afraid of the sand? Likely not. Did it matter that she couldn’t throw a ball as well as her cousin when they were kids? It’ll likely be a distant memory. And her refusal to ride a train today doesn’t mean she’ll shy away from trains forever.
By seeing a longer view of the future, you can reassure yourself that her preferences now won’t matter down the line.
4. Don’t make a big deal out of it
I had taken my son to a gymnasium class—thankfully a trial run to see how he’d like it. But whereas other kids followed along with the group activities, my son wanted none of it. Instead, he walked around the room, touching this and that, even pressing his face against the window.
I was mortified.
But I also knew that making a big deal out of his refusal to participate in this social situation would make the problem worse and add needless pressure. Instead, I accepted that this was his way of playing. I may have brought him to the class for social development, but he was more interested in exploring the different toys.
The more we fuss about these situations, the more we send the message that we don’t accept them regardless of their preferences.
Many of us understandably worry when our kids don’t play the way other kids typically do. We wonder if something’s wrong, feel embarrassed to stand out, or are confused about these preferences. We want them to develop social skills and worry any time they aren’t as friendly as others.
As you likely know, worrying doesn’t help much. Instead, remind yourself that there’s no single “right” way to play. Not every child likes the same activities or toys either, and probably have their quirks as well. Don’t make a big deal out of it, as that can send the message that something is wrong with her.
And lastly, she’ll likely outgrow these fears and anxieties, turning them into memories you can hardly remember. Yes, pay attention to the red flags and address your concerns with your pediatrician for a proper evaluation. But more often than not, your child’s development is on track and nothing to worry about.
Well, guess what: eventually, my child did go down the slide, all on his own. He decided he was ready, and with no pressure, agreed to take that first step.
The fear of walking barefoot, whether at home or the beach, is a distant memory we laugh about now. And swimming? Now all my kids can’t get enough of going to the pool and jumping into the deep end. They all easily make new friends and healthy friendships.
These are a far cry from those earlier days when I worried and wondered “What if?” Now I know that it’s okay if my kids—any of our kids—don’t always like what their peers do.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Child Refuses to Eat
- Do You Know What to Do When Your Child Acts Out in Public?
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn’t Listen
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