Engaging Children Who Seem Reluctant

In any group of children, there'll usually be a child who is less eager to be involved in the activities going on. Some may prefer to sit out, others make a big fuss about not wanting to be there. How do you get them involved without derailing the whole programme?

7 tips to engaging kids

Get to the root of the issue

  • Is the child new or are they familiar with the programme and usually get involved, but are having an 'off' day?
  • Consider tiredness, hunger, an upset with peers or staff in the programme or something at home.
  • Be sensitive about talking to them about it.
  • Choose your moment; avoid drawing attention to them.

Gather a group.
It can be daunting for a child to get involved with a big group. Keep an eye out for some children who may share interests with the child that can encourage and play with them. Break large group activities in to smaller groups if possible.


Find activities they like.
Consider that the range of options may be too overwhelming for them to make a choice. Research suggests that the more options we are presented with, the harder it is to make a decision- a phenomenon called 'choice paralysis'. It affects some people more than others. Offer 2-3 choices and support them to try one for 5-10 minutes. If they still do not want to take part- suggest they come up with a few ideas of their own of what they would like to do. Of course this needs to be negotiated- you're not running a tailor-made programme for every individual.

Be a role model.
Show getting involved in the activity yourself. Encourage the child to join you, or support their involvement in the activity when the rest of the group has moved on. They might be reluctant to try something new if they think others are watching them.

Give them an 'out'.
They might want to join in for a bit, sit out for a bit or not do it at all. Make some guidelines together that mean they feel supported, but you can still do your job supporting other children.
Ensure the rest of the group are not disrupted.

Give positive encouragement to the child.
Let the parent know you noticed their child having a go, taking steps to be involved.
A tiny step to be involved is a step nonetheless. Kids who are encouraged, celebrated and supported are more likely to join in and may love it.

Be patient, be persistent, give it time.
Some kids take a very long time to warm up. Some are right in to it on the first day, some may take a few days, some may only come out of their shell in the last few days of the programme! It's important to offer opportunities regularly and support them in taking part. It can be frustrating to always be met with a "No, I don't want to" but not asking them, or losing patience, will not help the child.

Have you had experience in working with children who were reluctant to engage? How did you support them? What worked well for you? Comment below....


Cherise Pendergrast
A mum of 3 awesome boys, I was an Occupational Therapist, now training as a Nutritionist. I write content from a parent and health professional's perspective to encourage, enable, empower and inspire.