Episode 17 –

7 Tips for a Successful Playdate

Episode 17

“Even if you have a great kid coming over and you and the parent get along famously, there are still things that make the playdate a nightmare rather than a daydream”

What makes a great playdate? You may have a great kid coming over yet the playdate turns into a nightmare instead of a daydream. In this episode, Sharon gives her best tips for a successful playdate! A little planning goes a long way. If you liked this episode, share it with a friend that would too! Thanks for listening!

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Sharon: I want to take a moment to thank my listeners. I really appreciate you taking the time each week to listen. I so enjoy recording these episodes for you. I love getting the feedback you’ve been sending and welcome all of you to continue the conversation in the Raiseology Parenting facebook group!

So I’m really excited about today’s episode.  It was a special request from a Raiseology Fan and it’s a topic I get asked about a lot and love discussing. Today we’re going to talk all about play dates. I thought this month we would have all of the podcast episodes involve the theme of play since the American Academy of Pediatrics just put out new guidelines for play and the importance of encouraging it. My goals for these episodes are to help you feel good about your choices as parents…. No matter what your playdate philosophy is.  I’ll talk about the different scenarios I run into often and what I feel works best for me and my family.

I want you to always remember that what works best for us may or may not be what works best for someone else!  Every family is different. We have different family structures, live in different towns, and have different outside influences.  But my hope is that by listening it will help you understand what your best options are and how you want to structure your children’s playdate schedules.

So why are playdates such a hot topic? Well, I think there are a few reasons. Depending on the age of your child, play dates can mean 2 (or more) kids hanging out and learning to play together or two or more parents hanging out and getting to know each other while the kids play.  

When my first two kids were young, I honestly didn’t have the opportunity to be involved in too many play dates. And quite honestly, among the daycare crowd, I’m not sure they were even much of a thing… Kids were in daycare all day and by the time the evenings or weekends came, hanging out with their friends just wasn’t really the priority. Although, I totally see the value in it.  I think as a young mom it would have been great to have some friends with similar age kids to befriend. And I eventually had a couple of friends to spend time with once my training was done and there was more time.

Once my kids were out of daycare and in more of a preschool setting, playdates took on such a different role.  To start they were a way for parents to get to know each other while the kids played. I saw a lot of value in that. I think it’s great for parents to watch their kids socialize and even better if they can take a few steps back and let it happen naturally without their orchestrating the steps.

It is very different playing one on one than in a classroom setting so exposing your kids to this type of play is definitely encouraged.  But how much is too much? Play dates give your kids the chance to learn how to share their toys with others (which is actually harder for them than sharing toys at school that are communal) and also to experience the joys of having that reciprocated at a friend’s house. Playdates also help children use their imagination with pretend play, and help them learn problem solving skills, since disagreements between kids are bound to occur.

How often should play dates occur? This is a challenging question to answer.  For every family this will differ. For mine, once a week or so is plenty. Between other activities, my belief that my girls need down time, and my selfish desire for them to sometimes be bored enough they have to play with each other… 1-2 play dates a week is about all they have time for. But I have friends that schedule play dates for their kids daily or sometimes even more than one a day.  To that I say you know your child… My best advice is to schedule play dates based on your child’s need or want for socialization, not because you think more is better. Offer your children the option to relax… you’ll be surprised how many take that option. Which begs the question: who should my kids play with? I wasn’t sure if I wanted this episode to turn into a discussion on social engineering, but I think it naturally has to. One of the main concerns the parents I speak to have is that they don’t know who they should schedule play dates with.  In some schools there are kids that have been “friends” since birth and it’s not always easy for the new kids to join the group. Other times, play dates are scheduled based on parents’ preferences rather than the child’s. I can’t say I don’t understand that. If you are going to be an active participant at a playdate you probably want to enjoy your time there too right? I can’t say I blame you. But when I think the social engineering becomes more of a concern to me is when you are ignoring your child’s consistent requests to play with a specific child, even at a drop off play date because you aren’t friends with their parents.

Someone asked me the other day how I decide who to schedule play dates with. My response is as simple as it can get- Whoever my child asks me to play with, or if another parent asks me for my daughter to play with their child. I feel fortunate to have friends who also have children the ages of some of mine, but that doesn’t mean that those are the only children my kids should or do play with, quite the contrary. I love when my kids find a new friend and get the opportunity to explore that relationship. I’m not friends with all of my kids friends’ parents, but I don’t need to be. They need to find their own way sometimes. And even if I have close friends that have great kids, that doesn’t mean that my kids shouldn’t want to play with other kids, or that I shouldn’t encourage it. I really try to teach my kids to branch out and my role in that is to facilitate their requests and encourage them. Besides, as kids get older, they really do find their way and make their own friends. They plan their own “hang outs.” I learned the hard way never to call a middle school get together a play date. I will say it’s nice being on the sidelines and helping out when needed but not orchestrating.

I know one of the biggest hurdles to overcome may be social pressure on parents. I know we should really be beyond that, but the truth is it happens. We worry that our children will be excluded if we aren’t proactive and making sure they have friends. We worry they will have hurt feelings if they don’t get invited to a birthday party or group play date. I will say this, our kids are paying very close attention to everything we do and hearing everything we say. The best way to ensure that your child will react well to those situations when they occur is to be ok with it ourselves. I say when because quite frankly, it’s not possible to have every child at every party or to include everyone in everything. If we make a big deal out of things, our children will view them as big deals. Have confidence that your children will gravitate to those who make them feel best. In a rare occasion, you may find yourself needing to intervene (and we will definitely talk about that in another episode soon) but by and large our kids know who is a good friend to them and who they enjoy playing with. So next time you want to schedule a playdate for your child, ask them who they want it to be with.

But what do you do if your child wants to play with someone, but the mom isn’t too responsive?  There are a few reasons I can see this happening. First, having been one of those moms I’m sure in the past, it could simply be that the parents are busy. They may not be able to host a playdate at their home since they aren’t there, and can’t figure out how to get their child to a playdate at your house. When my second daughter first started preschool, I was in this boat. She wanted playdates with everyone in her class!  She loves making new friends even to this day, but I felt awkward being in a position where I couldn’t reciprocate and worse couldn’t even figure out ways to get my daughter to a playdate most times. The kids she ended up playing with most were those of moms who knew my situation and offered to drive her so their kids could play. It wouldn’t surprise me if the parent of another child felt snubbed because I was too embarrassed to ask for them to drive my child and so I preferred not to schedule in the first place. Try not to take this too personally. If you suspect this is the issue and want to offer to help, I’m sure it will be well received.

Unfortunately, you will also run into situations where you can’t seem to schedule because you truly are being snubbed. I wish I could say this doesn’t happen amongst grown ups, but the reality is it does. Unfortunately it likely has very little to do with you or your child. Sometimes parents already have a group of kids they want their children playing with, and unfortunately you may not fit into the plan. My response to this has always been let it go. There are definitely other kids to play with and quite frankly if the parents are not being so nice, I don’t really want my kids around them. Remember kids learn from everything we say and do! Show your kids you can let these things slide and move on. And please don’t hold grudges. Once these kids are free to choose their own friends they may become your kids besties. Stranger things have happened!

In answering the question of who to have play dates with, I wanted to explore how well you need to know the family if you are dropping off for a playdate at someone’s home. This too is a very individual decision.  Similar to how some parents hire a babysitter they’ve never met, and others need to have an extensive interview process, parents have varying comfort levels with which other parents they will trust to leave their child in the care of.  My suggestion here would be to ask some specific questions that might help make you more comfortable. First, who will be home with the children? Don’t assume it will be the mom because in many situations parents work and a nanny or sitter is left to chaperone. If this makes you uncomfortable, ask to schedule at a time the parents can be home, or offer to have the playdate at your home. Will the parents be taking your child anywhere or will they be home playing? Again, some parents may not think it’s a big deal to take your child out for ice cream but if you don’t like the idea of your child being driven by that parent, then for you it may be a bigger deal. The best way to feel comfortable is to arm yourself with the answers to these questions ahead of time. If you are ever feeling uncomfortable, you always have the option of scheduling the first playdate as one that includes the parents so that you can get to know the family and perhaps feel better about dropping off for future playdates.

Also realize that as children get older, there tends to be less direct supervision. When my kids have playdates, the older ones are often playing in their rooms or in the playroom and while I can hear them and check in regularly, I’m not always directly observing them. A great question I’ve gotten on this topic is should play dates be one on one, or in a group? Well, my experience with group play dates have been interesting. In the past year I have watched a couple of my daughters favor threesomes. Often the requests were for three way play dates. To be honest, they’re not my favorite. Three is a tough number because I do feel that often someone is left out or more arguments tend to ensue. But, while it’s not my preference, I tend to prefer one on one play dates, I don’t prevent them from having group ones. I feel that I should give my kids the opportunity to navigate through and decide on their own if that’s the way they prefer it. Eventually they learn which threesomes work well for them, and which don’t. Honestly the thing I used to dread most about play dates is ending them! There are five words every parent dreads. Though we love play dates (the socialization, the physical exertion, the mental exercise) we dread the moment they end and the havoc that is sure to take place because eventually we have to turn to our children and say: “it’s time to go home.”

And it begins. At first it’s moaning, which then leads to pleading, and eventually full on crying as your child begs for “just five more minutes.” Sometimes we even find our otherwise wonderful children throwing themselves on the floor, flailing arms and legs, in a full on temper tantrum. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could avoid this situation altogether? I have a secret to tell you: you can! By simply acknowledging how difficult this transition can be we can prepare ourselves to make it a smooth one. In fact, we can even prepare in a way that motivates our children to leave on time and in peace all on their own!

I recently added a free download to my website that helps you talk to your toddlers so they actually listen. To be quite honest, the script works great with older kids too! I’ve used it before countless play dates and other activities to ensure things happen the way I want them to. The most important thing you can do is set a realistic expectation for your child and follow through so there are no surprises. If they know when they will be leaving the playdate (for older kids this may be a specific time whereas for younger kids may need a five minute warning) and how you expect them to behave when it ends, you will likely avoid the game of hide and seek my kids used to play when I came to get them before I figured this all out. You’ll want to be very clear with them what happens if they do what you expect and what happens if they don’t. For details you can get your free copy at raiseology.com/toddlertalk. I hope you found this helpful.  I have a couple of more play related episodes for you this month so stay tuned!

Meet Your Mentor

Sharon is a general pediatrician, loving wife and mother to 4 daughters.

 After a decade of practicing general pediatrics and working with families, she realized there often wasn’t enough time while tending to children’s medical needs to help parents in the way that would be most helpful in shaping their children’s futures.

 The Raiseology Program was developed to teach parents how to raise their children with the love and authority necessary to promote resilience and responsibility.

Sharon’s experience with hundreds of families as well as her own help her meet you where you are on your parenting journey to help you make it what you want it to be.

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