Congratulations! You’ve done what most parents describe as the hardest part: finding another child to invite over for a play date! Now that you have the play date scheduled, it’s time to focus on setting both children up for success. If your child struggles with social skills, it’s crucial to have a thorough plan of action so that it can run smoothly. Here’s how to prepare for a fun and successful play date for your kid!
When you schedule your child’s first play date, you should collaborate with the other parent so that you are both on the same page. Make sure to schedule it at a good time of day for both children–if you miss naps or meals for a play date you will likely end up with hungry, cranky children.
Plan for the play dates to be short at first, 30-60 minutes is usually a good starting point, depending on your childs’ age. It’s better to keep it on the shorter side, so that when it ends, both children are sad and eager for the next one, instead of having it go on too long and risking both children be bored and sick of each other.
Asking the other parent what their child’s favorite toys, games, and characters allows you to decide which activities will satisfy both children.
If your child struggles with social skills, it’s best to have older siblings with more developed social skills somewhere else during the play date. The guest may tend to gravitate towards the sibling with better social skills, leaving your younger child who needs the practice without many opportunities to play and interact with the guest.
Setting up the Environment
This is the step most commonly missed, but it is one of the most important! Have fun and high interest activities set out that both children will enjoy during the play date.You want their time to be as fun as possible! Be creative and make common games more silly and fun. For example, when playing “Red Light Green Light,” have the children pose as their favorite animal or character (i.e. ninja, ballerina, etc.) when you shout, “Red light!”
It’s important to set up the environment to encourage both children to interact. For example, if they are coloring, don’t give them each a set of crayons. Give each child half of the colors so they have to ask each other for each other’s crayons. You can alter the rules of common games so that the children need each other to play. For older children, you can write questions on Jenga blocks that they need to ask each other when they pull out the block, or during Candyland you can add the rule that the children must hand each other the dice and cards. These interactive changes allow your child to practice their social skills.
Choosing the Most Successful Activities for Your Child
If they struggle with social skills, you want to make sure that the games and activities are easy for your child so they can focus on interacting with their friend. If your child has difficulty turn-taking and losing, then avoid games that involve those skills. You can start with cooperative activities such as play-doh, legos, art, building model vehicles…the possibilities are endless!
Practicing sportsmanship with your child is essential before their first play dates. Try playing a game that requires turn-taking with your child and involve siblings if applicable.
Practicing in Advance
Knowing what the other child likes to play allows you to practice playing it so that your child is ready and excited to join in. You want your child to be as familiar with the games and as confident as possible. If the guests’ favorite game is too hard for your child, you can modify the rules so that they can still play. If they love to play Uno, you could take out the wild, draw 4, skip, and reverse cards to simplify it so your child can be successful. You can explain to the guest that you guys are going to play the game a new and silly way.
Informing Your Child
Let your child know a friend will be coming over! Tell them how long the play date will last and what fun activities you have planned so they get excited! When you talk about the playdate, make sure to keep your tone light-hearted and calm; even if you feel anxious on the inside, don’t let your child pick up on that or they may start to feel nervous about their new friend coming over.
Creating a Contract
Many children will look forward to the playdate and not need any additional motivation or incentives. However, for children who struggle with social skills, social anxiety, or behavioral challenges, playdates may not be a preferred activity. In this case, you can set up a contract with your child before the playdate. Clearly lay out what your expectations will be during the playdate. Just saying “be good” is too vague and misleading. Give your child several fun options of things they can earn if they meet those expectations. Make sure to stick to this contract very closely- if they do follow your expectations then they should get what you promised them immediately after the play date, and if they don’t keep up their end of the deal, they do not earn the prize.
Some children like to earn stickers, special treats, access to an activity or toy they don’t usually get to use, or choosing an item from a dollar store. You can choose acceptable options and let them pick which they want to work for.
Following these steps will prepare your child to feel confident and successful during the play date. hat way they can have fun while learning valuable social skills.
Good work, and have fun!
Next: How to Run a Play Date…