Playdates can be a great opportunity for our children to socialize. We attend play dates hoping it will be fun for our child as well as for us while we socialize. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some play dates become overwhelming and stressful. One dad at my RIE® Parent-Infant Guidance™ Class came back from a playdate between a 17 month old and a 2 ½ year old and was wondering what he can do for future success.
What can you do when children are not playing peacefully?
1. Get down to the child’s level.
2. “Sports cast” what you see. “Sports casting” means we narrate what we see. It is important not to take sides and be as objective as possible. Narration helps both children process what’s going on.
- “Susie was playing with the cup, hmm, it looks like Mike wants to play with the cup too.”
- “Looks like you both want this cup.”
- “It seems Susie is not done with the cup, pause, she’s holding on”
Narration can help not only children but other adults in the room/park to see/hear what’s going on.
3. Set a clear limit. Place your hand between children if one of them hits. Let him/her know, “I won’t let you hit.”
4. Model what they CAN do instead.
- “I wonder if there is another cup nearby?” or “You can wait for Susie to be done with the cup”
- If the child is touching, “You can touch his/her hair gently…like that.” (model gentle caress)
- If you see the child pull away from a hug, “It seems like Susie doesn’t want a hug… I would like a hug!” (providing yourself for a hug can help the child who insists to give a hug) .
- “This truck is heavy—I don’t want you to throw it. We can find something together, that we can throw.”
5. If the atmosphere is still tense, take a break. If you can, step out of the room together with your child. State what you plan to do: “Looks like Susie and I need a break for a minute.”
6. Ask for help. If you are not comfortable anymore to do the guidance, be honest about it, ask the other present adults to step in and help. “It is stressful. It seems to me that Susie is really overwhelmed….I am not sure what to do.”
* Sometimes parents of the other child will not know what to do either. They might not be comfortable setting limits. Keeping this in mind might help you understand why they are not intervening in the way we want them.
7. If nothing works you might shorten the time for this play date and go home. It can help you make a graceful exit. “We need some time to rest, let’s try again another time.”
I hope you feel more confident on your next playdate.
Wishing you all the best in the difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!