Play dates are a staple of childhood and a salvation for moms or dads seeking adult conversation.
Play dates offer parents a time to relax and chat with friends, as well as glean helpful advice. What’s a parent to do, then, when parents hit it off, but children don’t?
First, consider the ages of the children. Toddlers have limited social skills and even fewer self-defense mechanisms. If friend’s child consistently bites or rips toys away leaving your child frightened and crying most visits, parents should meet for coffee while spouses keep children at home.
At the same time, play dates, especially for older children who have both more social skills and abilities to protect themselves from outright misbehavior, offer a great opportunity for children to learn how to get along with people who are very different or whom they struggle to enjoy. Obviously, we don’t put our children in harm’s way, but a little “find a way to get along” can be great training for life.
First, parents may need to deal with their own expectations for play dates. Because we look forward to the time with our friends, we may see the time together as a “break.” We need to remember the parenting principle: If our children are present, there is no break from parenting. The only time we are “off the clock” is if our children are in another’s care. This mental shift can make those times we must pause a conversation to intervene in a tousle or redirect a game much less frustrating.
Next, before a play date, create the ritual of going over family rules for behavior. When you head to another’s house, remind your child to use manners such as “please” and “thank you,” to be ready to share, and to take turns. If your family is hosting, likewise remind him of your rules for hosting, such as let others go first and be willing to share.
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