It’s hard for any parent to admit they have a difficult child. But if your child doesn’t play “nicely” around other children, often playdate and play therapy are advised to help your child learn to interact more effectively with others his age. The only problem is many other parents feel uncomfortable setting up playdates knowing your child might throw an item, be destructive, bite, hit, or bully other children.
Rather than swear off playdate for the duration, make a concerted effort for your child to interact with others. It will require a bit of steely grit and determination on your part as well as firm discipline and boundaries for your child. It’s very likely your little one is dying to play with others, so using that motivation to help your child learn how to play correctly is the best incentive there is.
Find Trusted Friends
The best people to contact when it comes to setting up playdates are trusted friends and relatives with children around the same age. It might seem easier to unleash your child on a child you’re unlikely to see again, but a trusted friend can help you navigate your way through the playdate and keep your little one in line.
Arrange Proper Locations
Your child will dictate a lot about how the playdate will go. You don’t want to put him in a situation where he’s more likely to lash out or become frustrated, but at the same time you want to push him just a bit beyond his current comfort zone.
Your first playdates might be at a central location such as a park, playground, or toddler play zone. This is neutral ground and he won’t feel the need to protect his toys or be frustrated by the ownership of someone else’s toys. A neutral location is also exciting simply because it is not the norm. Playing at a new park is exciting and might help keep him focused on having fun together.
Keep the Playdate Short
Find the best time during the day for the date when your child is rested and ready for action. Tired, grumpy children are much more likely to act out, so a morning playdate before lunch or one in the afternoon after a good nap are likely the best times.
Then set up the playdate with a definite ending time. You’ll want to keep playdates short to avoid boredom or a desire for a change of scenery. Ideally you’ll give your child enough time to play that he’s getting a bit worn down, but still has enough reserve to keep him happy and on track. If you wait until he’s totally worn out, you might be dealing with a messy situation.
It’s tempting, especially with older children to leave them to their own devices while you chat with the other parent. While this might be fine occasionally, when your child is going through a rough patch you should be watching him carefully. If you see signs of frustration or anger that might lead to destructive behavior, step in quickly with a distraction or a more soothing activity.
Ideally your child will learn to self monitor his behavior and moods as he grows, but for now he might need your help to know when he’s reached a limit or needs to take a break. You should also be on the lookout for aggressive behavior such as hitting, biting, shoving, or stealing toys. These don’t mean you have a naughty child, per se, but they should be dealt with quickly to ensure the rules are clear as to what is acceptable and what is not. In addition to a time out, be sure you ask your child to apologize to set a good precedent going forward.
When Something Goes Wrong
If something goes wrong while you’re playing together, you should be aware of it instantly as you’ve been watching your child closely. Immediately pull your child aside to discuss the situation and hand out punishment as necessary. Remember to that you should always praise more than you punish, so encourage the right kinds of behavior frequently with praise and compliments.
If you can catch an act before it’s committed, you should turn it from bad to good. If you child is rearing up to smack his friend for having the toy he wants, grab his hand and make the smack into a high-five or a hug instead. If you see him eyeing a toy like he’s going to steal it, sweep in with a quick distraction and plenty of praise for how well he’s learning to share.
If you don’t make it in time, be thankful you have an understanding friend, but don’t let the misbehavior slide – even one time. You’re helping your child to learn how to behave properly with others his age, so you must help him now by reminding him of what he did wrong, “Junior, you know we don’t hit our friends”.
Then, remind him of the consequence you warned him about previously. “You know that hitting deserves a time-out, so put down your toy and come with me”.
Remove your child from the play area both to avoid making the punishment torture by watching others continue to play, and to minimize distractions. Remind him one more time of the crime and punishment without any anger, just a plain cause and effect rationale. Then leave him for the time-out. (A time-out should be as many minutes as his age – two minutes for a two-year-old.)
At the end of the time-out, return and ask if he’s ready to try again. Before he goes to play again, be sure he apologizes for his misbehavior. If he continues to misbehave, the time-outs aren’t effective and you might have to simply deny him the playdate all together.
Hopefully you make it to the end of the date, but regardless of when you leave, be sure to thank your friend profusely for allowing you to borrow her child. Then, even if the date went badly, praise your child for his good behavior, and only mention the bad in a “remember this for next time” kind of way. So long as you’ve linked bad behavior with negative consequences such as having to leave, the message will be loud enough without you harping on it.