Are you considering planning a preschool playdate for your son or daughter? That’s great! Peer-to-peer play helps aid children in the development of their social-emotional abilities. They learn things like problem solving, how to communicate their ideas, and how to overcome social obstacles.
Observe closely but don’t hover– Many parents have trouble deciding how involved they should be in their children’s interactions with peers. The answer? It depends! The younger your children are, the more you’ll need to participate. Children three and four years old may not need you to participate as actively, but they still need you close by. Observe how the children play with each other. Who takes the lead? How do they handle disagreements? Does anything surprise you about their play? Remember, children behave differently depending on whom they think is watching. So observe closely, but don’t hover.
Set expectations- Let both children know what is expected during play. These expectations may be different depending on where in the house they play, or if they’re spending time outside vs. inside. Keep expectations to a minimum (2 or 3 at a time). To ensure that the kids understand, have them repeat the expectations back to you. Then, when an issue arises you can remind them of the expectations that have been set.
Give plenty of warning before the end of the playdate- Transitions can be tough for little ones. Let your kids know about 20 minutes prior to the end that in 10 minutes it will be clean-up time. If you know your child has particular difficulty transitioning from social time or his favorite activity, give him more warning.
Help the children build problem-solving skills, don’t solve the problem for them – If the children playing aren’t agreeing on which toy to play with, rather than saying, “Ok, play with this toy for X amount of minutes and then play with that toy”, say something like “So you want to play with the trucks, but you want to build with blocks. What should we do about this?” By putting the dilemma into words, you help them recognize that there is a conflict, and that conflicts have resolutions. If you put the question back on them and they are unable to figure something out, or if you notice emotions rising, only then should you provide a solution.
Communicate with the other child’s caregiver- If your child is going to another person’s house, let the other parent know what your child needs to be most successful when playing with others. For example, if your child is quick to get frustrated, let the other parent know what helps your little one calm down. Food is often involved in preschool playdates, so be sure to inform the other parent of any food restrictions or allergies. If you’re hosting the playdate, ask the other caregiver about her child. You may even want to invite the other parent in for coffee while the kids play.