First friendships teach children important social skills such as sharing, manners, and co-operation. When helping your child choose friends for a playdate, consider the following points:
- Age – Ideally, the children should be close in age, but do invite an older child over occasionally. Your child will learn a lot by mimicking his socially savvy guest.
- Temperament – Consider your child’s playtime personality. If your child is quiet and slow to warm up and chooses a loud, extroverted child to play with, arrange shorter playdates or create a timeout space for your child so that he/she can easily have some quiet, alone time before going back to play.
- The child’s parents – Ask yourself whether they share your values. If your parenting styles don’t mesh, a shorter playdate is recommended.
- Prepare ahead of time. Avoid fights and meltdowns by scheduling playdates at times when children are likely to be in a good mood, such as in the morning or the late afternoon.
- Keep it small – Try to limit get-togethers to one friend at a time, especially if the children are playing indoors. Your child will have a much easier time learning to socialise with just one other child. In addition, fewer children means that there is less chance that a fight will break out.
- Start small – The first playdates should only be for about an hour. Slowly increase the length of time until an afternoon or morning is manageable for the child. Going to Pappachinos for a milkshake and half an hour of play for example is also a playdate. These short playdates are actually much longer than you realise because the children spend the whole day of the playdate together at school and they talk about going on a playdate for days before and after the event.
- Go over the house rules – Tell the children what they can and can’t do, but keep the list short and simple e.g. “We always eat in the kitchen, and we don’t play in Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom”. The longer you lecture, the more they will forget.
- Let the children choose the agenda – Plan a few activities that you think they will like, but let them decide what they want to do. Make sure you come up with many ideas because children have a notoriously short attention span. If the children simply play alongside each other at first, don’t be concerned. They’re still learning social skills by watching and mimicking each other. There is no need to force them to interact.
- Turn off the TV and computer – Children won’t learn social skills staring at a screen. (The exception: Watching a DVD or playing a computer game can help the children wind down when their perfect playdate comes to an end.)
- Don’t let the date drag on indefinitely. Most children of this age don’t need marathon playdates. Most will get bored and cranky after one hour – 90 minutes tops.
- Don’t forget that location matters – Children can get possessive when they are on their own turf, especially when it comes to sharing their toys. Holding the playdates in neutral territory, such as a playground in the children’s room at the library, will limit the fears and cries of ‘Mine’ from the younger children.
- Prepare your child for the playdate by saying things like which toys are you happy to share? Let’s put the others away for now. If your child does not want to share you can gently remind him or her that you have already spoken about this.
- Avoid always going to the one child’s home and not the other.
- Don’t hover – Always stay close by to supervise but intervene only when you absolutely have to such as when one child hits the other or they start calling each other names. If you step in during every little disagreement, your child won’t learn how to work out problems for himself.
- Don’t make sharing harder than it is – Minimise meltdowns by warning your child ahead of time that you expect them to share their toys. However, if they have a special possession that you know they will resist handing over, put it away until after the playdate. Set out toys that are easy to share such as balls or blocks, or give the children a number of the same type of toy like dolls or cars.
At the end of the Playdate.
- Good manners matter – Remember to teach manner. Remind your child to say thank you for coming to play with me or for having me at your home.
- Commend your child – Tell your child that they played very well and that you will arrange another date or help your child understand a better way to manage if there was conflict. Keep it short and to the point.
- Encourage dialogue – At supper encourage your child to share their experience. Building positive memories is enhanced when the activities are spoken about and shared.
By Di Dawes
Crawford International Sandton Pre-Primary Principal