Episode 9 – Ava, Age 9: Being told she can’t play

Friendliness in public versus private settings

Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Episode 9 – Ava, Age 9: Being told she can’t play


Think About It Questions

  • Why do you think Ava’s friends wanted to play only with each other? Why does Dr. Friendtastic think it matters whether they are in a private or public setting?
  • Have you ever had someone tell you that you couldn’t play? What did you do?
  • What do you think of the rule: “You can’t say anyone can’t play”? Do you think it would help kids be kinder and include others? Why or why not?
  • Are there any situations where you think it’s okay not to include someone? What would you do if a kid was being mean or trying to wreck your game?


Hi, there! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.

Let’s hear today’s question:

I’m Ava, and I’m 9. I have two friends in my class who do everything together. Last week, when I tried to join their game at recess, they told me to go play with my other friends. What should I do when this happens?

Hi, Ava. Ouch! It never feels good to hear, “We don’t want to play with you!”

I think it was unkind of the two friends to exclude you at recess! It’s true that some people are closer friends than others, but recess is a public setting–meaning there are lots of people around. The time for private playing is in a private setting–like one of their homes. They could have a play date with just the two of them at one of their homes–no harm done, But in a situation where lots of people are around, insisting on being with just one other person doesn’t make sense.

The problem is, we can’t control what other people do. So, the issue we need to figure out is not what they should have done differently. Instead, we need to focus on, what are you going to do in this situation, when two of your friends only want to play with each other?

It may be that this is a sometimes not always thing. If the two friends are usually happy to include you and only sometimes exclude you, it may be worth watching before you approach them. If they’re already playing with other people, or they just seem more relaxed and open, go ahead and try to play with them. On the other hand, if they’re huddling close and whispering, they’re probably not open to including you, so don’t bother approaching them. Just go find someone else to play with.

You might be wondering whether you should say something when these two friends insist on playing only with each other. If your school has a rule that “You can’t say anyone can’t play,” it might be useful to remind them of that. If they’re hogging some play equipment, you might want to say, “I’d like a turn.” You could also tell them, “That was a mean thing to say” then walk away. If they care about their friendship with you, that might make them think about what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, you can’t make people want to play with you. So if they’re not being kind to you, your best bet is probably to find someone else to hang out with.

There’s one more thing that I hope you’ll do: Remember this. Remember what it feels like to be excluded and promise yourself that you’re not going to treat anyone this way. When someone approaches you and wants to play, tell them, “Sure!” That’s the kind thing to do.

This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.

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