Up until now, you’ve been your child’s playmate. Together you’ve conquered Candy Land, eaten more than your fair share of mud pie and built the most excellent block towers this side of the Mississippi. But as your preschooler gets older and starts attending school or daycare, her social circle will expand and playdates will become a vital part of her life.
Playing with friends at a playdate isn’t just about having fun – although that certainly is important. Your preschooler’s first friendships and play dates will teach social skills – how to share, taking turns and even some conflict resolution.
To get the most out of your preschooler’s play dates, here are some guidelines:
When your child comes home from school or daycare, does he mention the same name over and over again? Ask if he would like to have his friend come to play or if there are other kids in his class that he’d like to play with. You can also ask the teacher if there is another boy or girl that your child has taken a shine to.
Smaller Is Better
When hosting a playdate, invite just one friend. An odd number almost always ensures that someone will be left out. And keep the get-together short – between one and two hours is more than enough time.
Keep it Familiar
If this is your child’s first playdate, have it in your home or at a place where your child has been before. If the playdate is at someone else’s home, stay. Your presence will make your child feel more comfortable, particularly in case of a conflict or if your child gets nervous without you. Likewise, if the playdate is being held at your home, invite the other child’s parent or caregiver to stay or at least let her know she’s welcome to hang out until her child settles in. (Who knows, you may even get a new friend out of it!)
Before your child’s friend comes over, talk to your preschooler about what she would like to do with her friend. If the television and computer are off limits, tell her so. If you think there is a particular toy your child might not want to share, put it away. Ask your child what snack she’d like to serve.
Be Present, But Be Invisible
Once your child’s guest has arrived, don’t just leave them to it. Suggest some activities that will break the ice and get things going. Help set up some toys or a game that they’d like to play. Once the play date is progressing well, back off a little but be available in case someone needs you. If the kids aren’t playing together, don’t worry. Parallel play – where kids play next to one another without interacting – is normal at this age.
Conflict? Let Them Work it Out
If a squabble arises, unless it gets physical, stay out of it. Small conflicts rarely last and chances are the kids will be able to work it out on their own. If a disagreement escalates to something physical, it’s time to step in. Explain that kind of behavior is not acceptable and help the kids come up with a compromise. If necessary, divert them to another activity or a snack.
The End Is Near
About 20 minutes before the playdate is scheduled to end, let the kids know that it will be time to clean up clean up soon. With 10 minutes left, start the putting away process. If your announcements are met with reluctance, give them something to look forward to – “It seems like you two had a lot of fun playing dress-up. Maybe next time you can pretend to be princesses.” If they still drag their feet, have a clean-up race – set a timer and see who can pick up the toys the fastest. But be realistic – preschoolers can certainly help clean up the mess but probably won’t be able to do it all themselves.
For more great ideas, check out the top five secrets of hosting a successful playdate.