What makes for a Successful Playdate?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Recently, a mom in my office was expressing frustration that her daughter, age 6, was refusing all efforts to set up a play date in their home. She commented that when there is a play date, her daughter does not want to share her toys. Playdates can be a bit embarrassing when your child is either unwilling to share or when a child becomes bossy, directing the play with respect to what the guest may or may not do.

There is a simple solution. When you hear it, you’ll know that you knew this all along, but perhaps losing site of boundaries and structure is simply easy in the face of our hopes for a well earned break!

So here are some tips for creating a successful playdate for ages 4-10, approximately.  Children younger than 4 need a parent present entirely to navigate the playdate. Children older than 10 typically have the skills to do all of these tips on their own with your support.

  • Arrange the playdate at a time your child is well rested
  • Take the time to discuss toys that are for sharing with friends and those that are not. Put the former away, out of site or play in a designated area with designated toys and games for this particular playdate.
  • Keep the time relatively brief, such as 90 minutes to 2 hours, tops, even if the children are doing very well. In this manner, they hold onto the memory of getting along and having fun, with a desire to do it again and again.
  • Be present. You do not need to be on top of your child, but it helps children to feel secure just knowing you are readily available and nearby.
  • Think and talk, in advance, with your child, to designate the play activity choices and a structure for the flow of the playdate, such as free play, then a building or art activity, then a snack and more free play.
  • For the free play, offer three choices. Include your child in the process of choosing and try to eliminate screens.
  • Yes, I know, kids today love screens, such as television and video games and all other kinds of apps.  However, really put some thought into securing good old fashioned connection involving make believe, games, spatial relationships and/or art.
  • Perhaps you have the time to be present to make homemade play dough or to set up the sprinkler, etc.
  • Whatever you do, plan it in advance. This kind of planning, helps secure your child and the success of the shared social time, taking out uncertainty and the greater possibility of power dynamics involving the need for direction.

Having said  all of this, are these tips necessary for everyone? Maybe not, but keep an ear out to collect some data during your child’s playdate. It is unlikely they will tell you about what you might consider inappropriate comments that underlie the need to secure direction and control.

Lastly, we are not talking about micromanaging or being too controlling. Find that lovely middle ground with some choices in place and the flexibility to alter them as deemed desirable or necessary. The goal is a successful give and take experience, and many children thrive a little guidance. Within that guidance, there is plenty of room for free choice and expression of play.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 2nd, 2015 at 8:01 pm and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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