My 4 (almost 5) year old son attends preschool daily from 9-1. While he does have a few friends there, he will not initiate play or contact with others, nor will he join in when invited (especially outside in the neighborhood). The most noticeable withdrawl is during birthday parties at a play gym where many of his classmates have their parties. In addition, he will become extremely close to one particular friend and dominate his time with that person, driving the other child to want to eventually separate from him.
Following are a few more details about his behavior in the following situations:
1. At birthday parties (specifically involving physical play)- initially, he's excited and will join his classmates/friends. When physical play (climbing, etc) begins, he mopes, rejoins his parents and (nearly) cries that he wants to go home, even while being encouraged by classmates, parents, etc to play. He has stated that he hates the play gym and refuses to go to any more parties there.
2. Neighborhood play in our cul de sac - he nearly hides behind my back when confronted by chidren who invite him to play. If he is one on one with a child, this isn't usually an issue - though he does try to dominate the play, almost mother-like. He would rather play with his 2 year old brother than the neighborhood children.
3. At school when his close friend is absent - he hides behind my back, physically draws into himself and has sometimes cried. This has improved as the school year has progressed.
A little background about our son:
1. He is very creative - has many imaginary characters with whom he engages in semicomplex play (car races, etc.), loves creating art projects and drawing, but becomes fixated on certain objects and will draw them frequently and in varying contexts.
2. He appears to be very intelligent - writing by 3 1/2, reading simple stories and a fair amount of sight words by 4, extremely articulate (at an early age)
3. While not akward, his gross motor skills (unlike his fine motor skills) are underdeveloped.
4. He is healthy and a very happy little boy.
We want to help our son become comfortable in social situations and make and maintain friendships.
IN my area, they have social skills clubs/ workshops for children who are experiencing just what you describe. You might check this out in your area-- as it would be an opportunity for your child to learn some social skills and feel confident in a safe setting.
If he has underdeveloped motor skills, I can imagine why outdoor rough play and a play gym might be uncomfortable for him-- he may not be as comfortable doing what the other children are doing, and this causes him to withdraw. Perhaps his pediatrician and/or other doctor could advice on some OT/ skills training that will help him develope his gross motor skills as well.
The details about your son's behaviour appear to suggest that he might be suffering from anxiety - probably social phobia. I might suggest you do a google search of the term "childhood anxiety" or something similar to see if the description matches that of your son. You will find a lot of reading on the internet re this very common mental health issue for children as well as many suggestions on books that can be purchased from the local bookstore, on-line or borrowed from your local bookstore. Our child suffers from severe social phobia and with a lot of hard work and therapy she is now able to manage her fears and function "normally" in her day-to-day activities.
I agree with the previous poster - social skills can be learned in clubs, sports and workshops. Don't overlook the local playground or playdates in your home. I might suggest that you do talk with your local family doctor for other suggestions. Anxiety is a very treatable disorder; however, the earlier the diagnosis the better the prognosis. I wish you the best ...
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