Having Fun Play Dates (page 3)
- 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?
If Andrew says he doesn't get along with Richard, the telephone conversation goes this way:
Andrew's mom: It doesn't look like it's going to work tomorrow. Can I call you back when it looks like will work out?
Richard's mom: Okay.
Andrew's mom: Thanks for calling.
Andrew's refusal can be temporary, and his mom has handled this in a polite way so that she didn't burn any bridges. If Andrew changes his mind about playing with Richard, it is her turn to call and propose a play date.
Sometimes parents misguidedly persist, and it is difficult to turn them down without hurting feelings. Mia is constantly asking for a play date for her four-year-old daughter, Annabel, with Rachel, even though they almost never play together at school and seem to be interested in different things. After politely refusing a couple of times, Rachel's parents finally agree to the play date, and it goes poorly: the children squabble and often try playing without each other. Although Rachel says she wants another play date with Annabel, she doesn't play with Annabel any more frequently at day care after the first play date. Mia continues to ask for play dates. Rather than hurt her feelings, Rachel's mom agrees to a "play date" composed of both children and their parents attending a concert at a local children's museum. When Annabel and Rachel don't play with each other at all, Mia finally gets the message.
If Andrew accepts, Andrew's mom responds:
Andrew's mom: Andrew's free and he would love to. When should I drop him by?
If your child is invited, it is customary for you to offer to drop him off and pick him up.
Step 2: Set Up the Play Date with the Other Child's Parents
Immediately after your child invites another child over (whether it be done by a phone call, texting, or an IM your child has just made, see Chapters Ten and Eleven), get on the phone or speak directly to the other child's parent (you should be doing this until your child is well into middle school). Set up play date times so that you can be there for the entire time. Have your child host play dates only when you can personally supervise. Play dates are too important to leave to others who may not know how to supervise them.
Your job is to set the date and time and to arrange transportation and snacks with the other child's parents. When calling to set up a play date, help set a reasonable length for it.
Joey, age six, is very happy to have Conrad come over to play for the first time. At the beginning of the play date, Joey's mother asks Conrad how long he would like to stay. Conrad says, "All day." Conrad's mother agrees to this, not wishing to offend his newly found friend or Joey's mother. But after two hours, the boys run out of things to play, and Conrad is asking to go home. However, Conrad's mother, who has gone shopping, has turned off her cell phone and cannot be reached. Joey's mother spends the remainder of the play date suggesting activities that the boys don't want to do.
Whether you are the parent of the host or guest, schedule a shorter time than you think the children can manage on the first play date—usually about one to two hours is optimal to start with. A short, successful play date leaves both children wanting more in the future. Ease into longer play dates after several successes. Here's how Conrad's mom does this:
Conrad's mom: [To Joey's mom] When would you like me to pick up Conrad?
Conrad: I'd like to stay all day!
Conrad's mom: [To Conrad] I know you have been looking forward to playing with Joey, but right now, I need to know what is convenient for Joey's mom.
Joey's mom: You can pick him up in a few hours.
Conrad's mom: How about if I call in an hour and a half and see how things are going?
Joey's mom: That would be fine.
Conrad's mom calls an hour and a half later to find out if the boys are running out of things to do. If they have, she picks up Conrad. No one is uncomfortable about this arrangement, since the boys have had fun and want to see each other again. The play date is not a burden on Joey's mom, and she has more confidence that her son would be in good hands should Conrad invite Joey for a play date.
Step 3: Make Sure Siblings Are Busy Elsewhere
Siblings have no place in a one-on-one play date. Consider the two following situations.
Seven-year-old Arlene is looking forward to Jane's first visit with her on Saturday afternoon. They decide they will play with Arlene's large collection of toy horses, and Jane brings over some accessories that Arlene does not have. No sooner has Jane arrived than Sam, Arlene's three-year-old brother, becomes interested in the new toys Jane brought. Behaving as a typical three year old, he wants to join in and won't take no for an answer. This upsets Arlene and annoys Jane. Instead of playing by themselves, the girls have to baby-sit for Sam. They never get the special time together each is looking for.
Caroline, age nine, is not looking forward to playing at Samantha's house because Samantha's eleven-year-old brother usually teases them both and destroys their craft projects. The live-in baby-sitter can't control the older brother.
Some parents make the mistake of expecting the older or younger sibling to be included in the play date, or they leave the children to fend for themselves. Although it may stretch a parent's resources, developing a close friendship is important business best done one-on-one without interference. A little extra planning takes care of the sibling and avoids a frustrating experience. Here are some suggestions when you invite a child over for a play date:
- Make your child's room off-limits to siblings during the play date, and strictly enforce this.
- Schedule play dates for siblings at the same time. One at your house and one at another child's house makes it easier for everyone.
- Keep siblings busy with activities that span the play date (for instance, a video). If you can't keep a little brother or sister away for the entire time, schedule a shorter play date.
- Have one parent take the sibling on his or her own special outing while the other parent supervises the play date.
If you have two children close in age, never accept invitations for double play dates where both of your children go to the same house to play with the same child. Each of your children needs to have his own friendships.
Immediately Before a Play Date Your Child Is Hosting
Step 4: Clean Up the Place Where the Children Will Play
Children need a tidy place to play. Usually it's your child's room, the backyard, or a common play area adjacent to an apartment. Children don't like to play in a messy room, even if the mess is their own doing. A parent should pick up the dog poop in the back yard and help a child clean up her room immediately before the play date so these places will stay clean until the play date begins. Here's how Dad gets his daughter to clean up an hour before her play date:
Dad: What did you decide to play with Sheila?
Karin: We're going to play with my train set.
Dad: There is no clean place to play in your room right now. You need to pick your clothes off the floor and put them in the hamper.
Karin: I'm too tired. You do it.
Dad: I'll help you, but you have to clean up also.
Karin: [Waits for Dad to do it]
Dad: I want you to pick up your underwear, and I will pick up your socks. Let me see you pick up your underwear first. [Karin does this.] I'm sure Sheila is going to have fun playing in this room! [Dad picks up socks.] Now pick up your magazines, and I'll pick up your stickers.
These guidelines will help in cleaning up:
- Allow plenty of time for cleanup.
- Help your child clean up in order to get the process going.
- Don't threaten to take the play date away if your child doesn't want clean her room.
Step 5: Prepare Your Child to Be a Gracious Host
Here are three tips to help you and your child prepare for the guest:
- Have some snacks ready, especially for kindergarteners and first graders, to offer when the children get tired of playing. In this way, they have downtime so that the games they were tired of before become interesting again. Older children also appreciate the break and the attention (and it's an easy way to see what they are doing).
- Make noninteractive activities off-limits. Your child doesn't need a guest in your home just to watch TV or play video games (see Chapter Two). It is your job to ensure that your child does not waste a play date by watching TV or playing video games for most of the time. Also make sure your child doesn't have access to his cell phone.
- Have your child put away any toys he doesn't wish to share or that might be broken. He has to share whatever he leaves out.
During the Play Date
Step 6: Supervise but Don't Include Yourself
When your child is hosting the ideal one-on-one play date or get-together, you are in the background except for an occasional brief chat to get know the other child (see Chapter Fifteen). Your child and his guest need to be in or near your house so that you can hear what's going on. You stay in hearing distance. Be ready to provide a snack, keep siblings away, or step in to resolve disputes that the children can't resolve themselves (see Chapter Thirteen if this is a problem). In other words, you help your child and her guest avoid a frustrating experience.
Your child is totally responsible for the entertainment, so your role is to avoid talking too much to the guest or going on outings.
Ian and Joshua, both eleven years old, are just starting to have get-togethers. On the third get-together, Joshua's father asks them if they would like to go to a movie. They are both excited, and their three hours together consist of driving to and from the movie and watching the movie quietly for two hours. The boys talk to each other for a total of twenty minutes (in the car). They cannot talk about the things they want to because Joshua's dad is constantly asking both of them questions. The result is that they don't get to know each other any better, so this was a wasted opportunity. Ian and Joshua didn't find out whether they liked to play with each other. Joshua's well-meaning father commandeered the play date and gave a lot of his time, but he didn't contribute to his son's friendship.
While your child is building a friendship, avoid movies or other outings with or without parents. These activities are reasonable to do with a well-established close friend, who will feel special being invited along on an occasional outing. However, these will not build a new friendship.
Step 7: Try to Get to Know the Other Child's Parents at Pick Up
Getting to know each other is advantageous for both the guest's and host's parents. Exchanging pleasantries with the other child's parents at the end of each play date shows them that you care about how the play date went and that you are interested in becoming more accessible to them so that setting up future play dates will be easier.
If your child is the guest, be sure that your child thanks the host for having her over. A typical conversation at the end of a play date at Karin's house goes like this:
Sheila's mom: Did everything go okay?
Karin's mom: Very well. Karin had a wonderful time with Sheila. The girls play together nicely. Sheila's such a well-mannered girl.
Sheila's mom: We'll have to have Karin over the next time.
Karin's mom: I'm sure Karin would love that.
Karin's mom compliments Sheila to her mom. Both Sheila and her mom feel appreciated. This will help them feel more comfortable the next time Sheila and Karin play together.
A poor showing is made by the guest's parents if they pull up in front of the host's house to drop off and pick up their child—never getting out of the car. You might have seen these hit-and-run tactics and wonder if the parents have any concern for their child.
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