Play Dates: They can be the best fun or your worst nightmare. Here are a few pointers to consider in planning and creating the best play dates for your child ever.

  • Start small and short. Plan for a short and successful visit with one child. Just an hour can be enough. It is better to end the playdate with children wanting more rather than feeling tired or upset. You can eventually add more time to the visit as your child gets comfortable with her playdate friend.
  • Plan ahead. Have a discussion with your child about the playdate and what to expect. Encourage your child to choose toys to use together. Be sure your have plenty of the chosen toys to share. A big collection of blocks or cars is much easier to share than a small one!
  • Put “special” toys away. You know there are very special toys your child will not want to share. Instead of dealing with this the day of the visit, take time for you and your child to put them safely away. This may help your child feel less anxious about her “things”.
  • Bring something. Invite the playdate visitor to bring something to share too! Often the pressure is on the home child to share her things with the visitor. But if the visitor brings something to share too it balances out the sharing. A parent can also be a good thing to share!
  • Prepare an activity. Certain activities are easier to share than toys. These include simple art projects such as homemade play dough, watercolors or washable markers on shelf paper. Also try putting on a variety of music to dance with. Provide paper streamers or pretty scarves to add to the fun. Of course, when all else fails: Read Books!
  • Don’t be surprised. Often children tend to play more side-by-side than together. This is normal play behavior for young children. And it is an important step towards learning how to play together. Remember, children still have to share things even if they are playing next to each other.
  • Plan a snack time. If things get too carried away or contentious pull out something to eat. Food is always a safe restorative activity.
  • Be clear about time to go.  Most preschool teachers give children a five or ten minute warning before clean-up time. This helps prepare children to stop playing. You can use this technique too. Let your child know that in ten minutes it will be time to clean up and for her friend to go home. Try using a timer with a bell that rings at the appointed time. This works better than you telling her it is “time” because the timer is impersonal. It is harder to argue with a timer than you!
  • Good-bye ritual. You might want to create a good-bye ritual with her special friend such as: two hugs and a wave. These create a familiar ending she can look forward to at the end of each playdate visit.

(Article written by Ellen Booth Church)