By Lexi Walters Wright
Successful playdates are important for your preschooler. Learning and attention issues may mean you’ll need to do a little more preparation, but these strategies can help the hangout go off without a hitch!
Who might your child have fun getting to know? Some preschoolers have trouble playing with children their own age; some preschoolers don’t. Ask your child’s preschool teacher or daycare provider to suggest potential playdates. Are there kids your child sees regularly around the neighborhood or at therapy? Ask your child who he’d like to play with and, when it makes sense, follow his lead. You want him to enjoy the process of making friends, so giving him a say is important!
As kids get older, they can start attending playdates alone. But for preschoolers, it makes sense to have Mom, Dad or another caregiver tag along. This can be helpful in case your own child needs a little extra attention from you during the playdate. Having a parent there can make the other preschooler feel more secure, too.
For many kids with learning and attention issues, home may be the most comfortable place to hang out. Your child likely feels at ease with his surroundings and routines at home. If that’s the case, consider hosting the playdate. But if your child tends to retreat at home when new people are there, think about another spot where the kids might have fun together. Consider a library or an indoor or outdoor playground.
If your preschooler still takes naps, keep that in mind when you schedule the playdate. You want your child to be rested and alert when his friend arrives. If you’re considering a playdate somewhere besides home, think about when that place will be the least crowded.
If a friend is coming to play at your house, put away the toys you know your child will have difficulty sharing. But if you have duplicates of any particular toys, lay them out prominently: If the kids have trouble sharing a particular toy, you can point out that there’s enough for each child to play with.
Before the playdate, find out what the other child enjoys doing so you have some idea what might be popular. (Play-dough, a painting project and blowing bubbles are usually safe backup ideas.) That way, you’ll have an activity on hand in case your child and his new friend are slow to warm to one another or if they’re having trouble taking turns with the toys.
Discuss what will happen on playdate day. For example, you might say, “After lunch, Jake from speech therapy is coming over with his dad to play. Jake loves trains, too, so I was thinking you might want show him your train table. We’ll have watermelon and yogurt, and then he’ll leave.” Consider using role-play to help your preschooler think about what to say when his friend arrives, or what can he do if his friend grabs his favorite train.
When the new friend and his parent arrive, give them a rundown of where everything is. Explain any house rules. Do this within earshot of your child so that he gets a refresher on rules such as no food outside the kitchen and no jumping on the couches.
Preschoolers may need your help solving common playdate problems. But they need some freedom, too, to socialize on their own. Stay within earshot so you can assist the kids if necessary. Keeping playdates short can help reduce friction. Even a 30-minute stopover can help your child get used to socializing with other children. A few minutes before the playdate ends, let your child and his friend know that it’s almost time to leave. Allow them to pick one more activity or game before cleaning up.
After his friend leaves, praise your child for the positive things you saw him doing: “I liked the way you shared your blocks with Jake.” Ask your child what he enjoyed about his friend coming over. And clarify anything that came up during the playdate: “You looked worried when Jake asked to see your room. What were you thinking about?” Making friends is an ongoing process for kids. And starting in preschool means you’re setting the stage for years of socializing.
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Lexi Walters Wright is a veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
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