There have been several occasions when moms have asked about play dates: how to make them more successful, how to get kids to play together without ripping each other’s head off, and how to get them to play away from the parents. These are all very nice things. These are all things we all want for our kids.
However, sometimes it does not come that naturally.
Here are the barriers I have heard:
“He wants to go over, but as soon as we get there, he crawls and hides behind me and acts like I’m about to throw him to the wolves. He ends up playing right beside me or forcing me to play with him with the other kid(s)…not the point.”
“She plays great with everyone else, but there is this one kid she just cannot stand to be around. They seem to be friends sometimes, but I am starting to think they just don’t like each other. The problem is, her mother is my (best friend/sister/sister in-law/etc) and we are going to be together. It’s not like I can avoid going over there, even though I already do that some.”
“He will not play unless it is his idea. If someone else wants to play something else, he will do his own thing or force them to play his game.” (The opposite of this is also true in which the kid in question goes along with everything like a trained seal, even though he hates playing Legos).
Well, there is hope.
Sometimes it simply takes more effort to make it work. Put down the Mojito and join in the fun.
Here’s what to do:
1. Like I have mentioned before, if you get that feeling in your gut that things are going to go poorly, they probably are. Don’t wait for the disaster. Prevention and teaching in the moment will be the greatest cure.
2. Plan ahead. A lot of times kids do not do well managing the wide open opportunity of “go play with your friend.” Before you go over, think of several games/activities your kids can do while they are together. Present the options at the outset of the play date. Make it fun, be excited.
3. Start each activity with them to make sure it gets off to a good start and everyone is doing their part. If you have problems with turn taking, and there is turn taking involved, you might want to stick around for a bit to make a big deal about “your turn!” Many times parents wait too long to do this and end up intervening after things have gone bad. Don’t wait.
4. End it before they do. Often problems arise because the kids have difficulty managing the end of an activity just as much as they do the beginning. What usually happens is one of them wants to stop and the other does not. This is when you will hear the footsteps, “mooooommmmy, he doesn’t want to play with me anymore.” Use your instincts (or the clock on the kitchen counter) and go in and check to make sure they don’t want to move onto something else (remember, your list of activities?) before they declare the game or activity over: “Hey, guys…you having fun? Do you want to keep playing here, or do you want to go make brownies?”
5. Give them the language. It is always helpful to give your kids things to say in certain situations and to practice that ahead of time. Say, “no, thank you,” “can we share that?” or “you did awesome.” Pay attention to the language they use and make a big deal about it.
6. If you have a kid who is clingy at these times, it is important to do all these things ahead of time, before he has the chance to cling on you. I do not want him or her to get more access to you after clinging to you. Be involved more at the get-go and slowly encourage more and more independent play. Fade out slowly. Come back often at first, then fade back more.
7. Lastly, if all else fails and things do not go well and the kids are not playing nicely and are mean to each other, it is often a good idea to give them time to play by themselves. One of two things is true: a) they want to play together and they will be motivated to do so and, therefore, limit the meanness in the future, or b) they really don’t like each other and simply want to play by themselves. If b) is true more often than not, you need to do more work on the front end. It will be more effortful, but follow the steps above and see what happens.
Some of you might have kids who would never realize you were gone and would make grilled cheeses for themselves and their friends if they got hungry.
Awesome. Take a break, catch up on The Hunger Games and get a tan in the backyard. For the rest of us…try these things and remember: prevention, prevention.
What are your playdate experiences?