Ask the experts

My 3 year old is so shy and doesn’t seem to play with other kids at nursery. How can I help her to make friends?

 Jeni Hooper is a chartered psychologist and parent coach with a Master’s degree in educational psychology. Jeni specialises in family coaching, offering parents practical techniques to help them bond with their children, adjust to the different stages of childhood and overcome difficult behaviour.  

Q. My 3 year old is so shy and doesn’t seem to play with other kids at nursery. How can I help her to make friends?

Many 3 year olds are happy to play alongside other children and to keep their games separate. This is a natural part of learning to play. Small children have so many new skills to practice that they become fully absorbed. If she seems happy to be in company but is focused on what she is doing, then this is right for her. She will be noticing what others are doing but will prefer to try things out on her own. She may be attracted to particular children and may position herself near by. Ask the nursery staff to tell you who they think she likes, and then you could arrange a play date with the other children and their parents. Just being together at Nursery is a good social experience for her.

Children usually start to play cooperative games with others in their 4thyear but may play physical games like chasing and climbing before this. If she doesn’t like boisterous games, you could ask the nursery staff how she gets on with games that are led by adults. Many younger children find the structure provided by organised games helps them to join in.

Q. My son is very clingy with his child minder in social situations but seems fine at home- is there anything we can do to help?
Children often need a little time to get used to a new social situation. Staying close to the adult is a good observation point. Most children will need time to watch before they feel confident to go off and explore. Often children will go off for a short while and then return for contact and reassurance before moving off again. Look out for any situations where he is reluctant to leave her side at all. This is a sign that there is too much going on for him to feel relaxed. Are there too many people? Is the room too large or too noisy?
He will benefit from slow but steady social exposure both when he is with her and from going places with the family. Choose social situations which suit him and take things slowly. Make sure he can always see you and make a big fuss of him when he comes back to you to touch base. Show an interest in what he is doing when he comes over but let him pace himself. He will gradually feel more secure and confident if his experiences are carefully chosen to suit him
Q. My 18-month-old daughter won’t let me leave the room when we go anywhere – How can I help her feel more confident?
Your daughter feels completely safe in new situations when you are there. Her distress when you are out of sight is a normal reaction. She feels unable to cope on her own and is also unsure where you are or when you are coming back. She also knows that becoming upset brings you back again and currently that is the only way she has to put things right.
Most children gradually get used to familiar situations and people so that they start to explore a little on their own and may take their eyes off you briefly. Build up her confidence slowly by keeping to routines with familiar places and people. Encourage her to leave your side to explore but stay where she can see you. Gradually she will spend more time playing and exploring.
If you have to leave her in child care, talk to your child care provider about how to help her cope with you leaving. Alternatively please do feel free to contact me live and direct via They may suggest you leave her for a short time for a few visits while she gets to know her new environment. Once she is more familiar with the place and the people she will begin to feel safer even though you are not there.

For help with behaviour problems, speak with Jeni Hooper on

0906 199 4698

£1.53/min. Network rates vary. 18+. T&Cs at SP: 0207 440 9060

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