The key to a successful playdate is to have an objective that is simple and manageable, such as visiting a local point of interest or simply active play at a park. Even if the children are unaware of the purpose, parents should be clear on the intent in order for the play date to run smoothly.
Don’t be afraid to start young: Setting up play dates for infants is a great opportunity for them to start socializing. As these children get older, their play dates will become easier to manage and children will be less stressed about playing with new friends.
Manage the activity: It is important to be sure the play date group is not too overwhelming and the group is manageable. Typically two to three children can play together well. Also consider how long the play date will last. Typically if the play date is at someone’s home the timing is more structured, while if it is held somewhere like a park the time is more open-ended. One hour is a reasonable amount of time for almost any activity.
Be involved in the play date: While you don’t want to be hands-on for the entire play date, it is important for parents to have a role in the play date. Whether it is setting up the supplies for an arts & crafts project or pointing out animals at the zoo, kids will become more engaged in the activity if they can follow the lead from an adult.
Take advantage of educational opportunities: Along with typical play date settings, it is also important to visit places that offer children new educational experiences, such as aquariums and museums. Parents can also use seasonal activities to teach lessons. For example, if the play date activity is apple or pumpkin picking, have the children count the number of apples or pumpkins in the bin.
Be aware of differences in parenting styles: With the many different approaches to parenting, play dates have the potential to create conflicts among adults as well as children. One way to avoid “play date politics” is to have play dates outside of your home in a neutral area and respect the fact that every parent has a different parenting technique.
Know when something goes wrong: Not every play date will go smoothly. If your child becomes hungry, tired or sick, end the play date and try again another time. If there is a conflict with another child, sit down with your child and talk through what happened.
Claire Haas is the vice president of education for Kiddie Academy, a national education-based child care provider. Claire is a mother and former teacher who is responsible for overseeing and developing curriculum for all of Kiddie Academy’s nationwide centers. Make your next playdate a successful one.