Planning Playdates & Fostering Friendships at Home
by Sandy Siegman, M.S. Ed.
Playdates are a fun and essential activity for children to develop friendships and learn important social skills that will enable them to make their way through life. As children develop from the “me” or “mine” stage, they learn to become more independent and empathetic. Playdates are great opportunities for them to practice the art of compromise and taking turns. They are also learning kindness, generosity, and how to express their feelings appropriately.
When scheduling a playdate that your child will attend to without you, it’s a good idea to talk to the other parent about important details regarding your child such as diet or allergies. You may also want to know if the family has pets in the house.
Keep in mind that while this may be your first child, your child's friend could be that family’s second or third child. If the familty has other children, ask what types of activities your child will engage in and voice any activities you are not comfortable having your child participate in. Check to see who will be supervising the children: is there another caregiver at the home if something happens?
If you're hosting the playdate, keep things simple and don't worry about impressing other parents. While this could potentially mean your house may get a little messy, or that your child will have to share their toys, you'll save yourself from unnecessary stress. It also provides you with teachable moments to guide your child through these situations.
Tips for hosting great playdates
- Let your child take the lead. Ask them who they would like to invite over or you can take cues from who they seemed drawn to at daycare or your local playground.
- Start out small. Invite one child over first so your child gets used to sharing their things with another child. Later, you can build up to having a small group.
- Lock up your pets so everyone stays safe.
- Keep snacks simple while making sure you know about any allergies or food sensitivities.
- Set a definite start and end time. Two hours may be a good start.
- Have a quiet or structured activity in your back pocket if the kids start getting too wound up. Consider activities like baking cookies or doing an easy arts and crafts activity.
- Be firm about clean-up. Explain to the children that they need to clean up one activity before moving on to the next. You may not want to keep toys with a lot of pieces readily available until you get the hang of hosting.
- Make yourself available as children need help working out conflicts. For older children, don’t jump in too fast - see if the kids can work out their own resolution.
- Give the children fair warning that their playdate is coming to an end. If it was a success, talk to them about what they enjoyed and what they might like to do at the next playdate.
Playdates will enrich your child’s life as they learn a whole range of essential life skills in the best way – through play and fun. As they play, they are learning creativity, communication, and working together as part of a team. Knowing how to do this builds self-esteem and confidence, and will help children thrive in group settings in and out of school.