By Lexi Walters Wright
Grade-schoolers can be a busy, social bunch. To help your child succeed at playdates, use these ideas and planning tips for kids with learning and attention issues.
Think about the classmates your child mentions when she talks about school. Do you hear the same name over and over? Consider asking your child if she’d like to invite that student for a playdate. You can ask the teacher to suggest potential playmates, too. Also think about which kids interact well with your child during activities outside of school. Familiar kids can make for great new friendships.
Many grade-schoolers attend playdates without a parent or caregiver. But you certainly can invite the playdate’s parent to tag along. If your child’s new friend also has learning and attention issues, for example, she might need a little extra support. Or if you think your child might need you during the playdate, it might help to have you and her friend’s parent there.
Is your child tired after school? If so, that might not be the best time to hang out with a new friend. Perhaps a weekend morning would work better. Hosting a playdate at home works for some kids but others might disappear to a favorite spot, leaving the friend to play by herself. If an offsite playdate makes sense for your child, consider an indoor play space, a craft-making shop or a park.
If the playdate is at your house, put away toys your child doesn’t want to share with her friend. Encourage multi-player games, crafts and activities. Offer snacks that you know your child will enjoy. For fun, consider letting your child and her friend help make the snacks, such as mini-pizzas or mac and cheese with mix-ins.
Picking up on social cues can be tricky for kids with learning and attention issues. Help your child plan the playdate and think about how to be a good host. Ask her how she’ll know whether her friend is having fun. What can she do if she thinks her friend looks bored? What can she say if she and her friend disagree about what to play with? Use role-play to help her think through different possibilities.
The point of a playdate is for your child to flex her social muscles. If a disagreement unfolds, let the two of them try to work it out without your help. One to two hours is plenty of time for children to get to know one another. Watch your child for signs that she’s losing steam or becoming frustrated. And feel comfortable telling the other parent when it looks like your child has reached her limit. You’re doing the responsible thing by following your child’s cues and meeting her needs.
After her friend leaves, ask your child if she would like to see her new friend again. Ask her what might she do differently next time. Consider telling the playmate’s parent if your child enjoyed herself. That may make inroads for a future playdate! In grade school, kids are just getting the hang of socializing with and without parents around. And it isn’t always easy for them. But every playdate is another chance for your child to practice her growing social skills.
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Lexi Walters Wright is 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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