Having Fun Play Dates
- How can I make sure that my child has a good time on a play date?
- How can I avoid disasters on play dates?
Background: Obstacles to Rewarding Play Dates
Having one-on-one play dates is the best way for close friendships to develop. Having a play date at your house is your best opportunity to monitor your child's behavior with other children. At their best, play dates provide continuous fun and opportunities for intimacy for both children. Get-togethers (as older children call them) allow older children to confide in each other as their friendship deepens. Furthermore, play dates in your home are better than having children playing in the streets for three reasons: other children may intrude on the play date; others may be watching, and their feelings may be hurt that your child didn't include them; and if your child has been picked on by other children, the bully can try to stop other children from playing with your child. Ideally a child has a better long-term adjustment with two or more best friends (so that he doesn't monopolize a single best friend), and having more best friends doesn't add significantly to long-term adjustment.1
The three main obstacles to a rewarding play date are frustration, boredom, and conflict. When you and your child host a play date, you can prevent frustration and boredom through the careful planning I describe in the following steps. I deal with the third obstacle, conflict, in the following chapter.
Solving the Problem: Avoiding Frustration and Boredom on Play Dates
Careful planning will help both children enjoy the play date more. I have grouped the steps by the times at which they are taken:
- Planning the play date (at least a couple of days before it is scheduled)
- Immediately before a play date your child is hosting
- During the play date
- After the play date
Planning the Play Date
Step 1: Decide with Your Child Which Playmate to Invite
Your child needs to select her own playmates with your help.
Seven-year-old Sarah plays with Joanie, her seven-year-old next-door neighbor, two to three times a week. She frequently gets into arguments with Joanie over little things. She is irritable most of the time, especially just after the play dates. Sarah and Joanie's play sessions usually begin when Joanie's mom drops off Joanie for several hours while she does some errands.
Sarah's mom works from her home office, and although Joanie's mom never has offered to take Sarah, Sarah's mom allows this to continue, figuring that at least her daughter has a playmate. But Sarah's mom has broken the cardinal rule of playmate selection: she never asked Sarah if she wanted to play with Joanie. To her surprise, when she asked, the answer was an emphatic, "No!" Sarah's mom needs to make some important changes.
Sarah's mom politely refuses Joanie's mom's requests for free babysitting. She then begins to invite the children Sarah wants to play with. Within two months, Sarah's play becomes more mature, friendlier, and more cheerful. Her mom is able to get more work done because Sarah needs less supervision when Sarah has a guest over and because Sarah is frequently invited to her friends' houses.
You can also head off similar problems when your child is invited for a play date. Politely handle the invitation while checking with your child. Here's how Andrew's mom does this when Richard's mom calls her:
Richard's mom: Richard would like to know if Andrew can come over to play tomorrow afternoon after school.
Andrew's mom: Oh! Well, let me check and see if Andrew has any plans. [Asks Andrew out of range of the telephone] Would you like to play with Richard tomorrow afternoon?
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