10 Tips for Your First Playdate
Make it a hit for everyone involved
You're probably your kid's favorite playmate (go, parents!) but scheduling playdates for your child can mean big benefits for both of you. He'll learn social skills and make connections with other kids while you'll meet other parents and have actual grown-up conversations. Here's what to keep in mind so it goes as smoothly as possible.
1. Make sure they are well fed. Plan to meet when the kids have recently eaten so that you don't start off on a cranky note. "It's usually best to plan playdates right after a meal and before naps so that children can return to their own elements for nap time," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., an Atlanta-based pediatrician, author, and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
2. Keep it short. When it comes to playing, plan for about 45 minutes. This way, the tots don't get overwhelmed.
3. And keep it small. More than four children in total could get a little crazy for a playdate. If your child is an introvert, stick to one buddy in the beginning.
4. Involve your child. Role play different scenarios, suggests Katie Hurley, L.C.S.W., a Los Angeles-based child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. "It's empowering to them," she explains. "They think, 'This is my playdate. I can do this.'"
5. Practice sharing. "Teach them certain phrase ahead of time, such as 'My turn please?' and 'Thank you,'" Dr. Shu says. Make it easier for little ones to wait by setting a timer if needed.
6. Be ready to ref. Step in if you hear voices rising or see a child hit or kick, but don't end the playdate because of a squabble. "Intervene and say, 'Let's figure out what went wrong. She wanted the toy, but you wanted the toy. Let's use the timer,'" Hurley suggests. "When we teach kids how to problem solve, they actually learn skills for life," she says.
7. Go outside. If weather permits, take your meet-up to a park or playground. Pack a blanket to sit on, some healthy snacks, and a few toys such as a ball or bubbles, Hurley advises. "I think we all do better when we are out in the elements and breathing in fresh air," she says.
8. Hide toys. "Favorite toys should be off-limits, as should anything that's easily breakable or hard to clean in terms of germs," Dr. Shu says. Plus, the fewer toys you put out, the fewer toys you have to pick up later.
9. Make yourself scarce. Go over the house rules and then let 4 and 5 year-olds play by themselves-peeking in every so often if you must. "Kids love to get lost in imaginary play and it interrupts the flow when we hover over them and focus on every little thing that they're doing," Hurley says.
10. Don't force it. Instead of stressing about squeezing in a playdate, let everyone off the hook if need be. "Playdates help children socialize, but that can also be achieved at the playground or park, music classes, daycare, or preschool," Dr. Shu says. Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself permission to reschedule.