Solving Playdate Battles

kids fun

The after school playdate is great on so many levels.  It gives kids a chance to socialize and get to know each other better in a smaller environment.  It provides an opportunity for imaginative play.  It strengthens friendships and helps school age children hone their social skills.

And it gives mom a chance to get a head start on dinner.  Right?  Wrong!

School age children are on the path toward independent play, no doubt about it.  But, in most cases, they haven’t mastered the necessary social skills to play with another friend without some supervision.  Sure, kids should be given space to play together and work out the small details of compromise, but battles are likely to erupt.

The fact is that young children have different ideas, different needs, and different ways of expressing themselves.  While those with stronger voices and opinions might seem bossy, the quiet ones might fade away and not have much fun at all.

Bottom line:  They still need help and fairly close supervision.

Below are some tips for creating peaceful playdates for your school age child.

Limit the time:

Open-ended playdates that drag on for hours are a recipe for bickering.  The truth is that kids come home from school tired, hungry, and sometimes in need of a little space.  Resist the urge to schedule every playdate the minute school ends and allow for some downtime first.  Be sure to set a limit on how long the playdate will last.  Kids tire easily and often crave time with their primary caregiver toward the end of the day.  45-90 minutes is plenty of time for a successful playdate.

Plan ahead:

It’s always a great idea to let kids lead the play.  This is their time to engage in free play and decompress after school.  But create a plan just in case.  You don’t need to plan a complicated craft to make a playdate fun.  Pull out a couple of board games in advance in case structure is needed.  Keep the recycling bin close for “recycled art” if downtime seems like a good idea.  Have a few ideas in mind in the event that the kids have trouble deciding what to do.

Explain the house rules:

It’s not your job to discipline another child, but it is a good idea to discuss your rules at the beginning of a playdate.  Keep it simple:  We keep our hands and feet to ourselves, we take turns, we share toys, and we use our manners and kind words. 

Play peacemaker:

It’s great to encourage problem solving during a playdate, but most school age kids struggle with this skill.  They often need help with the negotiation process.  Model the language and affect you want the kids to use, and help them talk out the problem.  Resist the urge to simply solve the problem – talking it through with them teaches them to work through similar problems in the future.

And always remember to use timers!  Sharing is hard work.  Timers take the guesswork out of it for the kids.

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Remember the snacks!

Growing children get hungry and hungry children get cranky.  Factor in a snack break about halfway through to allow time to reenergize.

Get out and play!

Fresh air, exercise, and sunshine are known to lift spirits.  Rely on the great outdoors to restore a little peace.

How do you solve playdate battles?

Image via Katie Hurley

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Solving Playdate Battles

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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