Managing Playdates

Managing Playdates

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

A play date is more complicated than meets the eye

A play date is more complicated than meets the eye. As soon as your child knows a friend is coming to her house, she might begin to plan out exactly what they will do. If her latest passion is putting on a pair of her mommy’s heels and acting out Cinderella, she may expect her friend to be interested, too.

When her companion arrives and would rather put together a puzzle, or draw on the chalkboard, watch out! Finding this hard to accept, your child might insist upon her choice of activity, and an argument could ensue.

Parents often get upset when they see their child acting bossy with a friend, telling her what to do or how to do it. In this case, they might feel their daughter’s insistence upon playing dress up is inappropriate behavior for a hostess. But she is just a small child, after all, and we have seen that for days she’s had her heart set on sharing her favorite game. Besides, it is natural for any small child to want to run the show when the play date is at her house. She is feeling quite important and very territorial!

In the situation above, you might wait a few moments to see if the children will arrive at a compromise. It is best, however, that you or another adult stay nearby during a play date, to help young children resolve such issues. If they cannot find a solution, you can tell your child, “ I know that you want to play dress up with your friend because you love it so much, but you have to think about her wishes, too. Why don’t you both take turns at choosing an activity?”

You might even set a timer to help them determine when it is time to switch. This reinforces the notion that cooperation is the best way to keep the fun going. If her companion is still not in agreement, you can suggest that your child put off playing dress up until after her friend leaves. Explain to your child, “Sometimes we choose a game that will please our guests.”

Children often have a hard time saying goodbye when a play date comes to an end. The two friends have been having such a grand time that they may even hide under the bed!

You can ease their separation by giving them some advance notice–for example, Jennie’s mom will be here in 15 minutes. (Ten, five and two-minute warnings are often needed, as well.) This way, the children can finish what they were doing and prepare themselves to say goodbye.

Your child may part from her buddy more readily if you tell her that she can call her friend on the phone after she gets home, or when you say, “Don’t worry. You can get together again next Monday. Let’s mark it on the calendar.”