I have a daughter who is 3 years and 3 months old. The kids she plays with are a year older than her and most of the time while playing they will exclude my daughter and keep playing amongst themselves (I don’t know why). Then they will leave to some other play area without taking my daughter along, after which my daughter will start crying inconsolably and will keep saying that those kids don’t want to play with her. Now whenever the other kids visit my place to play my daughter tells them to go away and does not share her toys with them. This is getting really out of control and has become an everyday thing. Please suggest some ways to handle this.

It is very hard to watch your child struggle in social situations. Although a year doesn’t seem like a large age difference, the difference developmentally between 3 and 4 year olds is quite large. It is likely that this developmental difference is driving these difficulties. I would bet that the older girls aren’t meaning to exclude your daughter, but that there may be some areas in which it is difficult for your daughter to engage in the same way in their play given the age difference.

It sounds like, regardless of the reason, it is making your daughter sad. What would be most helpful is to arrange for play times with the other children that are highly structured and overseen by you. Pick an activity that you know your daughter enjoys and is capable of doing and plan a time for the kids to do this activity. It could be a craft project or game, for example, but make sure you are there to help lead it. This way you can give your daughter the opportunity to feel comfortable with her friends again, can see in the moment where she might be having trouble keeping up, and be a role model for demonstrating how to interact with older children. This could be a great learning opportunity for your daughter. You can also validate her feelings when these things happen and she feels left out. Saying things like, “I see you feel sad that your friends went over there to play without you. I can understand how that would make you feel bad. Let’s walk over together and you can tell them that you’d like to play with them. Maybe I can help you play with the dolls together?”

Hopefully, with support and the opportunity to engage with the girls in a fun way that is well suited to your daughter’s developmental level, she can feel comfortable again. As your daughter grows, that year gap will become less meaningful and in not long at all she will be much more able to play with older girls happily.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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