The Importance of Play Dates

Play dates can be lovely when hanging with a parent you really like and the children are getting along. It’s easy. Maybe even fun.

Play dates can feel difficult when hanging out with a parent you don’t really know and are unsure of how your children will gel when outside of their usual setting.

Parents can feel pressure about their child’s behavior reflecting on them and wanting to impress their fellow play date mate. “He doesn’t usually act this way,” a parent might say.

Parents can end fun time early due to a hit, kick, or tension ensuing between children. Out of embarrassment, parents head for the car dragging their child along kicking and screaming. “Its not fair,” you can hear throughout the entire park.

Mortified. Incompetent. Judged. Some parents do not embark on play dates for the fear of what may happen, how they will feel, and how others may view them.

If you have read my previous posts, you may guess what I am going to suggest….do it anyway. Kids need play dates . They need to learn how to be with other children outside of the home and learn how to work through intense feelings and manage conflict.

They need opportunities to practice these skills and  play dates provide the perfect forum. Children need hours of playtime to allow the comfort level and situations to arise. Children need time to see conflict can be meditated without being hauled off to the car and shamed by a parent. This can lead to a host of other problems, including the beginning stages of poor self-esteem and anxiety around their own social abilities.

It can be hard to put yourself out there. You yourself may feel socially awkward and have your own discomfort in meeting new people. You may have been at the end of judgements from other parents. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to try and put the feelings aside and make time for your child to play.

The park is a great place for parents to meet up and get their child some social interaction. The down side is a parent may not be on the same page as you regarding teaching your child about the ups and downs of socializing. One push and you might have someone giving you the stink eye and leaving abruptly.

There are a few great ways to get the ideal play date going. Talking with play date parents about what you are trying to teach your child can be a part of the conversation. Their child may be doing some of the exact same things as yours. Many behaviors children engage in are developmentally normal and yet many parents want to bury their head in the playground sand when their child barrels over another child. While it can be embarrassing, there is a clear opportunity to teach your child about empathy and expressing his needs and feelings with words instead of actions.

A second idea is to meet with a parent you already seem to have some connection with, like a parent you talk with at pick up or drop off. If you already have a little chemistry, this can alleviate some of the social angst you may be feeling.

Lastly, don’t be the judge of others. As we all know, kids have bad days. This fact should not have a direct link to judgements we make about their parents. Also, parents learn to parent from their own experiences.  Unfortunately, some of them may not have been good ones. Have empathy. Model what healthy parenting looks like and be open to the challenges other’s face.

I parent from a non-judgemental place and believe others do as well.