When kids are playing together, strong opinions about what they want to play and how it should be played quickly come to fruition. Whether it is in the form of pretend/fantasy play or cooperative building, kids’ imaginations run wild. Their excitement is palpable as they engage. Problems may arise quickly if the scenario in a particular child’s mind doesn’t play out as he or she expected or if someone else “interferes.” Kids with social challenges have a more difficult time understanding that “interference” is really just someone else wanting to play. We have had many fort building situations where one child will start building and another come over to join in. He or she may add or move a piece of the fort and get a “Hey! Stop wrecking my fort!.” As social coaches, this is where we step in and help the child to understand that the intent was not to wreck anything, but that the other child simply wanted to play too.
We start by acknowledging that he or she had a plan. “Wow, I can see you had some big plans for this fort. Where is the plan for your fort? Is it written down somewhere? Are there blueprints?” We teach kids that the plan is in his or her head and not where anyone else can see it. We recognize that the child who started the fort had ideas about how it would look. We also use the phrase “let his (or her) ideas play too” which gives a short phrase to remind the child to consider another person’s point of view.
After a few reminders over the course of a few weeks, we will begin to hear “I’d like my ideas to play too!” as one child reminds the other and then we know that he or she has reached a true understanding of the workings of cooperative play.