The end of the school day can be a tricky time. Your child is tired after a full day of learning, bright colors, loud noises, and hundreds of kids. You are thinking about all the things you didn’t accomplish while your child was at school and wondering how it’s 3 o’clock already. And then, like a group of football linebackers, you are bombarded with, “Can we have a playdate?” (Or, is that just my experience? #sendhelp)
While those last-minute playdates are sometimes a welcomed surprise, it’s important to be in control of the playdate mayhem, for both your and your child’s wellbeing. Having a plan will help your child create social boundaries and allow them to make healthy choices in their friendships, plus prevent hurt feelings when you have to squash their playdate or sleepover dreams!
Here are some tips to encourage a positive, well-balanced social schedule for your child:
- Pay attention to your child’s needs. If they are exhausted at the end of the day, playdates after school may not be the best time. For introverted children, school is a very overwhelming experience and their bodies and minds need quiet, down-time to bring back that sense of calm. Weekend playdates are a better fit for some children (and parents!).
- Choose wisely. Not every friendship needs to move to that next playdate/sleepover level. Some friendships are best suited for school.
- Check-in. Ask your child after the playdate, “Where would you rate that playdate on the Friend-o-meter?” Get a sense of how it went. If they rated it in the unhealthy zone, consider another playdate down the road – but give it some time. Help your child come to this conclusion on their own or ask them, “What could you do next time to make it better?”
- Avoid the Triangle. The social dynamics of a group of three is sometimes complicated – especially if your children are playing Minecraft on the PS4 and you only have two controllers! One-on-one playdates are much simpler, plus allow your child to focus on strengthening that unique friendship.
- Small doses. Keeping playdates short and sweet are a great way to ensure kids have a positive experience. When a playdate is too long, sometimes Friendship Fires™ flare up putting both children (and the parents) in an awkward situation. Friendship Fires™ cannot always be put out in the moment, so if things aren’t going well, it’s time to wrap things up. (Be sure to encourage your child to put out the Fire at another time when they’re both ready to talk!)
- Focus on the Purpose. Playdates are a perfect time for children to form deeper friendships and really develop that trust and respect with their friends. This is among the many reasons one-on-one playdates are ideal. Give them lots of time to connect and hangout, especially if it’s a new friend.
- Have a Plan. You might feel that one playdate a week is a nice, fair amount that works for your child. Decide what makes sense for your family and inform your child of the plan. That way they know the expectations and can plan accordingly. When you’re attacked at the end of the day, your child can avoid hurt feelings by saying, “I’m only allowed one playdate a week and I had Henry over on Monday. Want to plan a playdate for next week?”
- You’re in Charge. While it’s easy to get caught up in the playdate drama, at the end of the day, you are in charge. Let your child know that playdates (and especially sleepovers) must be planned and coordinated through you (if that’s your preference) and make sure it suits your family’s priorities as well. It’s okay to say no to your child – just explain the reason so they understand.
Social boundaries are an important aspect of healthy relationships and empowerment comes from knowing exactly what to do and what to say. Helping your child take a more strategic approach to their social schedule makes things easier for you and, ultimately, it’s easier for them too.
Written by Dana Kerford
Friendship Expert and Founder of URSTRONG