How to talk to a complete stranger?

Nearly broke my heart today. My daughter asked to go to a soft play centre, which is equivalent to hell for me. However, in an attempt to be a good mother, I said no problem, but I explained that we would be going on our own and wouldn’t know anyone there. She said she wasn’t bothered. Normally, she is a very confident social character. She hasn’t had any problems making friends at school and socializing with other children in familiar situations is a breeze for her. She’s far from shy and has a lot more social skills than her mother.

The Problem

However, when we arrived at the soft play centre, she struggled to find anyone to play with. She attempted to go off and play but came back a bit deflated saying she felt lonely and no one would play with her. In my quest to develop her independence, I tried my best to sit back, playing on my IPAD and let her work it out. But…..

Our Attempt to solve it

At one point, I walked around with her holding her hand looking for a playmate but they were all running by so quickly. She tried a couple of times to say excuse me but they didn’t hear her. Bless!

Totally lost, I suggested finding someone playing on their own and introduce yourself and ask if they would like to play, but no luck. Then, I suggested that she find some children having fun and play near them and maybe they would ask her to join in. Bless she went and sat by herself in a play tunnel for ages and no one came by. It was so hard to watch.


In the end, I intervened again and luckily found two sisters, who were lovely and when I explained she didn’t have anyone to play with they swooped in and whisked her away. I had to drag her away in the end.

In reflection, it is rather an odd thing to go up to a complete stranger and ask to join in? As an adult walking up to people you don’t know and striking up conversation is the social equivalent of skydiving. So why do we expect children to do it so easily?

In future, what can I do to help her? Do you have any tips on how to help them make friends in these situations?

Author: mediocremum

A slightly older mum of one, who drinks far too much red wine and has an unhealthy obsession with her slow cooker. During the day she's an ICT Trainer, Social Media/Online Marketing consultant and does a bit of public speaking. Full Profile on Google+

9 thoughts on “How to talk to a complete stranger?”

  1. It’s an interesting dilemma. LMC is so young at the moment that she’s not yet got the concept of playing with others and hence is happy to just run around on her own. As someone who was bullied as a child and often felt excluded I have to admit that I already have sleepless nights about whether or not she’ll be able to find people to play with and be friends with. Really interested to hear suggestions from others on this.

    1. I have to say I was quite surprised to hear that you were bullied as a child having met you and you are a very confident, intelligent and sociable person. Try not too worry too much you’re a great mum and sure you will help her through this.

  2. Gosh, this is really interesting. When my two were little – particularly when my eldest was on his own, we used to go to soft play a lot. Sometimes we went with friends, sometimes not, but he never seemed bothered to be playing and running around on his own. I don’t remember him trying to make friends with anyone tbh, even recently (and he’s now nearly 7). When we used to go with friends they often would end up running around on their own! Is this a boy/girl difference?

    Sounds like you pretty much did the right things….. letting her run round for a bit while you survey the place and see if you can find a mum/child who looks like a possible buddy. Another thing to do might be to ask her what toy from home (jigsaw or book) she would like to take so that she can spend some time at the table with you getting used to the place (and surveying the friend potential for herself) before she starts playing. That way you have a transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Easiest solution of course is to tee up a friend to come with her ;-)

    1. I’m not sure if it’s a boy girl thing. However, I really like your idea of taking a toy. She is really into dolls at the moment so next time, if I can’t arrange to go with a friend, I will take her favourite doll.

  3. We had a similar incident at one of those places the other day. Poppy really wanted to go when her Sister was poorly and got upset there was no-one to play with. In the end we played with her for a bit and then said hi to another little girl and asked her to show her around as she hadn’t been before. It didn’t take long and she was happily playing with a few girls. It is hard to watch though x

  4. I think did exactly what you needed to do – you gave her several techniques for striking up friendships. But don’t worry that it didn’t work first time, as she needs to learn and develop those techniques for herself. Keep doing what you are doing, and she will get there. Even confident adults have their little ways of starting friendships and (business) relationships, and they don’t learn them overnight.

  5. As much as it’s horrid to watch, I think you have to remember that little ones take a while to learn how to ‘make friends’ as we perceive it. It takes a long time to move from parallel play to social interactions and there are often a few (!) explosions/traumas along the way. Even in Reception children are often happier playing alongside their peers than ‘with’ them. In the meantime, showing how to interact with others and assisting them in learning those social skills (in a hands on way), I think, will help her play with others on her own – in her own good time. x

  6. Don’t make a big deal of playing on her own and none of her friends being there.
    If you want her to learn to be happy with her own company, make out its as normal as playing with others, don’t ‘warn’ her no friends are going as she’ll automatically assume that’s unusual or wrong in some way. Hth.

  7. You could try giving madame a script. Say “Hello.” Wait for a response. “My name is …….”. Wait for a response. “Would you like to play”?

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