Besides encouraging friendships, home play dates give children the opportunity to hone important social skills – sharing, cooperating, taking turns and collaborating. So a play date is not just a little get-together or a way to pass an afternoon. It can be so much more!
There are several things you can do to ensure that your child has a successful play date at home.
– Talk to your child before his friend arrives and brainstorm some ideas for play. Sometimes children get nervous about entertaining another child and feel lost when trying to think of what to do. Having some ideas already formulated can put your child at ease. Ask your child questions about his friend: Does he like playing with trains? Does he like video games or board games? Does he like outside activities? What do you play with at his house?
– Review guidelines for sharing, taking turns, and cooperating. Remind your child about play dates at other children’s houses that were fun and those that were not as much fun. Your child will recognize that play times with friends who shared toys and cooperated well were much more fun for everyone.
– Ask your child to preselect toys he wants to play with and share. Sometimes a brand new birthday gift is too special to be shared right away. That’s fine. But it is a good idea to put that toy away so that your child is not forced to grab it away if his friend finds it. Other toys may be delicate and not great choices for some friends who may play a bit rough. By discussing which toys or games he would like to share, you are giving your child a chance to make choices and showing him that your respect his choices.
– Review family rules before the friend arrives so that you do not have to correct your child in front of his friend. Your child can also set a good example so that the friend follows the rules, as well. Keep it simple, of course. Some ideas for house rules might be: Food only in the kitchen; sofas are for sitting, not jumping; or no balls in the house. If the friend is not following the rules, a quick and gentle reminder from you can help your child manage the situation without embarrassment.
– Keep an ear out! While you want to give your child independence when playing with a friend, it is always a good idea to listen and quietly check in once in a while to make sure things are going smoothly. Sometimes a quick intervention by a parent can keep the activity on track. And if there is some conflict regarding a game, a parent can help children switch gears by suggesting another activity.
– Keep it short! Even the most harmonious play dates will run their course! Children have limited attention spans and eventually they get tired and bored. End the play date before this happens. Make sure you and the friend’s parent agree on a specific time to end the play session. Err on the side of too short instead of too long. It is much better for children to be begging for more than to be whining about when the play time will end because they are tired.
– Make the plans for a time when your child is at his best. Early afternoons are generally easier for children than later in the day when they are starting to lose steam. Think about your child’s stamina and schedule a play date for the time of day when he is rested and energetic.
Renee Abramovitz is a a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who retired in 2008 to become a “full-time grandma” to her four beautiful grandsons. She is passionate about the idea that all parents are their child’s first and most important teacher and strives to give parents the tools and confidence they need to successfully work with their children at home. Renee shares tips for working with young children at www.schoolsparks.com where she offers a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to assess their child’s readiness to start school plus hundreds upon hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets for parents to use at home with their children.