You’ve already put in so much effort to finding a friend and preparing for a play date. There’s still a lot to prepare and go over before the new friend arrives. Here is how to run a successful play date so that both children have tons of fun and are able to practice their social skills.
Before the Play Date:
Try to make sure your child has a good night’s sleep the night before, and if they have normal naps before their friend comes over, try to make sure they sleep well. You want your child to be well rested so they have enough energy to play! It’s also helpful to have a meal or snack right before the play date so that they don’t get ‘hangry’ or irritable.
Review any social skills that you’ve been practicing with your child so that the information is fresh in their mind. The day of the play date is not a time to introduce new skills, but it’s a great time for a refresher of what you’ve been practicing the week before.
Remind your child of the expectations for their behavior during the play date, and if you set up a behavior contract with them, talk about what they are working for and make sure they understand how to earn that reward.
Keep your tone light and full of happy anticipation. Praise your child for their practice up until now, and tell them you are proud of how hard they are working to learn to be a good friend. You want your child feel excited for their friend to come over.
Starting the Play Date:
Children behave more appropriately when the rules and expectations are clear, so a great way to start is to have both children come up with rules for the play date. As much as is age appropriate, have the kids work together to come up with their own rules. You can offer suggestions and ideas if needed. Kids are more likely to follow rules if they have a part in creating them. Some examples of rules could be: be kind, show respect, use kind words, keep your body to yourself, use your words, share, etc. Try to limit the list to 3-5 rules.
You already have activities and games out that you know both children will enjoy! Some children can happily play with different games and activities without needing any adult-imposed structure. If this is the case, great! Let them play happily together, as long as they are following the rules.
Other children may need a more structured schedule for the playdate. This is especially true for younger children. In this case, you can help the kids set up a schedule for their play time together. Have the children talk about what they want to play and in what order they will play with the different activities. You can write out the schedule, or for younger children who can’t read, you can draw little pictures of the activities they want to do in order. Provide as little structure as possible so that the children can be successful.
During the Play Date:
While the children are playing together, your job is to facilitate appropriate social interactions. Often times as parents our natural instinct is to focus all our attention on our own child and on getting them to behave a certain way, which is called hovering.
To successfully facilitate play with your child and their guest, your focus should be on getting the children to interact with each other as much as possible. You want to participate as little as you can while keeping the play date successful. Only intervene when needed, and when you do get involved, prompt the children to talk to each other and work the problem out together instead of solving it for them. If age appropriate, you can prompt social conversation by suggesting questions they can ask each other. Provide lots of praise when the children are playing well together!
Both kids are driving cars on the ground together and making car sounds.
Mom sits in between both kids to watch.
Mom sits several feet away.
I love how nicely you are playing together!
Provide as little interaction as possible while keeping the play date successful. Praise the children for appropriate behavior.
Sheldon tells his mom he wants to play trains.
Penny do you want to play trains with Sheldon?
Fun! Please ask your friend if she wants to play with you!
Prompt the children to talk to each other instead of talking for them.
Penny is crying because she wants a turn with the green car.
Sheldon, you’ve been playing with that car too long, let Penny have a turn!
Penny, it looks like you feel sad! Can you please use your words and tell Sheldon what’s wrong?
Sheldon, how does it make your friend feel when you won’t let her use the green car? How can we be kind and cheer our friend up?
Encourage children to talk to each other to work out conflicts.
The play date is a great opportunity for you to observe your child’s social skills. What are they doing well? What are they struggling with? Take notes on how you can praise your child afterwards, and what skills you can practice with your child for the next play date.
You can also note what activities went well and what toys the guest seems to prefer. This can give you ideas on what activities to have available for next time.
Avoid correcting your child in front of their friend as much as possible. You can give them feedback afterwards, but you want them to feel confident and not embarrassed in front of their guest.
After the Play Date:
Once their friend leaves, tell your child how proud you are of them! Ask your child what their favorite part of the play date was. Praise them for all the things they did well. If they held their end of the behavioral contract, make sure to provide the reward!
Was the peer a good fit for play dates with your child? If so, set up a regular schedule of playdates 1-2 times a week with the same peer. Keep practicing social skills with your child in the meantime so they can put it to practice with their friend on play date days!
Great work! Keep playing, and have fun!