We all want our children to grow up to be friendly, likeable, and sociable people! A crucial part of children’s development is learning appropriate social skills, and the only way kids can learn that is by spending time with children their own age! Unstructured play time with same-age peers is critical for your child to develop those essential social skills.
If your child is enrolled in a preschool or daycare that allows for a lot of unstructured play time, they may be getting practice with peers to develop and master crucial social skills. However, if your child is in a very structured academic program, stays at home with a caregiver, or if they simply struggle to hone their interpersonal skills, then it’s up to the parent to provide more social opportunities for their child.
This can be a very intimidating task! Parents that have a lot of extended family in the area may find it easy and natural to have same age cousins over regularly, but that is not always available for many families. Having worked hard with many families, we discovered the most effective strategies to finding the most suitable playdate friends!
Here are the best strategies for finding and setting up a playdate…
1. Ask Your Child
If your child is old enough, ask them who they like to play with at school or in afterschool programs. Younger children may not remember names, or may say names of children that they remember but not necessarily that they enjoy spending time with, so this approach is not always effective. If your child doesn’t have a friend in mind, there are plenty of other ways to find relatable peers in the following steps!
2. Reach Out to Neighbors
When walking or driving around your neighborhood, keep an eye out for other children the same age as yours. Neighbors are ideal for play dates because the proximity makes scheduling a lot easier. If you find this nerve-wracking, remember they are probably in the same boat–so don’t be shy!
3. Ask Your Child’s Teacher
If your child is in school or a daycare, ask the teachers who your child tends to gravitate towards, or has similar interests as your child. Teachers are a great resource since they see your child playing with classmates all the time.
4. Enroll your Child in Extra-curricular Activities
Extra curricular activities are not only great for developing your child’s skills, interest, and confidence, but they are also great to give your child more exposure to other children with similar interests. You can observe the children you child seems to like or ask the instructors who your child seems to enjoy spending time with the most.
5. Social Media
Given technology’s wide accessibility, finding nearby parents via the internet has become a great way to connect faster. Joining a local parent Facebook groups or visiting sites like Meetup.com to find other parents who are also looking for friends for their children. These groups may host picnics, arts and crafts, or even day trips to the zoo! If you can’t find a group that best suits your child’s needs, the best thing to do in this instance is to make your own. It’s likely you’re not alone!
6. Established Communities
Ask around in groups that you are already involved in. Do you work with parents of similar-aged kids? Maybe you’re already apart of a religious organization or support group. Think about who you meet on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to ask them about their kids or even their relatives..
Once you have a handful of potential playdate friends, it’s time to reach out to the parents. You can try to catch them in person using some of the places mentioned above, or if its a neighbor you can knock on their door, but sometimes that can be tricky. Another option is to write a note or card to the other parents and ask the teacher, instructor, daycare provider, etc. to send it home with them. This has been my preferred method, especially at my child’s school! Feel free to use my most successful template below:
Dear Parents of ______,
My son/daughter _____ is in (name of teacher/daycare/activity/etc.) with (their child’s name) and he/she would love to set up a play date with him/her! You guys would be very welcome to come to our home, or we could meet at a park or other place that your family enjoys. If you are interested, please contact me via text, call, or email (include my phone number and email address). Thank you, we hope to get together soon!
While a few parents might never respond, most respond right away and are more than grateful that I reached out!
Not all children will be the best candidate for playdates with your child, but it’s worth trying it once and seeing how well they get along. It’s also a great way for you to meet other parents going through the same stage and challenges that you are!
Next: How to Prepare for a Play Date, then How to Run a Fun and Successful Play Date!