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My toddler hates joining in. Does yours?

Young boy sits by himself doesn't want to join in on activitiesI have a beautiful, energetic, generally social child who doesn’t like joining in structured activities.

Sound familiar?

I could tell you so many stories that I have experienced, but here is my most recent one.

We went to Storytime today. It was only my child’s second session. The sessions are new to our town so all the other kids are also experiencing it for the first time. The first session went really well. Today my son walks halfway in and then sits outside the library door refusing to come in. Someone asks if I would like them to look after my baby while I attend to my toddler. I choose to ignore him for a little while though, knowing that if I pay attention to him he will really kick up a fuss.

After about a minute he comes in, sits at my feet and cries and cries yelling “Back home, Mum! Back home”

It’s embarrassing right? Even if you don’t want it to be. Even if you know that the other parents are cool with it and totally understand. All the other kids are fine and yours is crying, and to top it off I’m a primary school teacher and so deep down I really want to have the kid that joins in!

But I don’t have that kid. And he’s only 2. Almost 3. JUST A TODDLER. I try to tell myself that all the time.

I take a deep breath and think he doesn’t need to be like everyone else, but exposing him to opportunities is important. I go and grab a toy for him, even though none of the other kids are playing with one. He settles down and once the singing is over (his least favourite thing about groups) he gets totally involved in the picture story book, helping the leader turn the pages and he sits on my lap and does the craft activity. The toy he is playing with becomes a security blanket which he turns to from time to time and he is fine. And he has fun.

I know that this is just who my child is. This is his temperament. He takes time to warm up to social situations. And if it’s too overwhelming he doesn’t warm up. He just retreats or acts out for the entire time. In fact, most new situations can bring about resistance when it comes to my toddler. And while it may work for some parents to say “Stop that! Come and sit down now!” it doesn’t work for me. My child needs support and a bit of time to get there. As long as he isn’t hurting others, I’m OK with that.

Sometimes…many times, I want to give up. Stop going to anything that involves structure or things he ‘doesn’t like’ but then we come home and he is quietly singing a song to himself that he refused to participate in, and I realise he’s getting so much out of it even when he isn’t participating in the manner society wants him to.

If you have a child like mine I hope you are trying to do what I’m doing today:

  • Pat yourself on the back. You are doing a great job! These ‘non-conforming’ children are full of beans. They need that little extra love and support to get through situations that make them anxious.
  • Remember they are just a toddler! They have their whole schooling life to have to sit on the floor, or at a desk, doing structured activity (as a teacher, I know!). The fact that you are there supporting them and guiding them now as they warm up to structured situations is a good thing, but giving them the chance to just be kids is important too. I bristle at anyone who tries to ‘make’ my son participate. There’s plenty of time in life where he will have to do things he doesn’t have to do in a social or educational setting. I’m not about to start now. LET THEM PLAY.
  • Cuddle, love and support them always. These sorts of toddlers are yours – bold, proud and never EVER boring. Isn’t that great?

Have you got a toddler who doesn’t join in? How do you cope?

Image credit: altanaka/123RF Stock Photo

About Angela East

Angela is a writer, a former primary school teacher and a mum of two.

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2 Comments so far -
  • Sal says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. My daughter is almost three and I really struggle sometimes. She needs to sit on my lap the whole time and doesn’t want to join in, but like your son will often be singing the songs or talking about the class session it’s all over, so I know she’s getting something out of it. Sometimes she’ll have a good day and warm up to it, other times she’ll cry if I try to encourage her.

    • Thanks for your comment Sal. I also have a son who was like this at age 3. Any time I took him places he’d be the one crying, wanting to sit on my lap or saying loudly “can we go home!” (this happened once during library storytime!). He’s now 6 and in Grade 1 and will happily stand in front of his class for show and tell and is happy to say good bye in the mornings. He has surprised us with how well and how quickly he settled in. Sometimes all we have to do is wait. They’re probably never going to be the life of the party but not all of us are. All the best xx

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