How to plan a playdate for your child

Has your child suddenly got a buzzing social life and wants to bring friends home to play? Here’s how to plan a tantrum-free play date...

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Now that the nursery and school term is in full swing, you may have noticed your child’s made new friends – perhaps it’s time to arrange a play date!

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Planning a play date for your child benefits her and her friends in more ways than you might realise. When playing in a group, your child will gradually learn how to take turns, share, compromise and communicate with others, as well as the importance of manners and expressing herself.

If you’re new to the whole play date thing, here’s how they work…

Step 1 – Set the date

When you make friends with other mums, it’s probably because you’ve gravitated towards them naturally. But once your child starts making her own friends and choices, you’ll have to accept that the child they pick as their new friend might not have a mum who you know well.

“Your child will be developing her own preferences and may want to see someone you haven’t considered,” says Suzie Hayman, parenting educator and spokesperson for ParentinglinePlus. “Listen to who she talks about and then you can approach that child’s mum when you next see her.”

This is the perfect time to swap numbers and arrange that date.

Step 2 – Have a time limit in mind

When you have set yourself a realistic time limit, make sure you let other mums know what they are. That way she can plan her day too and you’ll have a mutual understanding on when this play date will come to an end. The best way is to keep the first play date short and sweet and then build it up if the play date is a success.

Step 3 – Be prepared for mess and emotions

There are chances that the combination of two or more little friends in one room might end in tears, mess and spillages! However, it’s all part of the fun of a play date so try not to get too stressed about it. Plus remember that her social skills may not as polished as they will be as she gets older!

“Don’t expect things from your child that she’s not really ready for developmentally,” says Suzie. “She won’t, for example, be ready to share initially. And don’t expect things to go perfectly – ‘perfect’ doesn’t exist and puts you both under stress!”

Step 4 – Remember the short attention span of children

Most pre-schoolers and young children have a short attention span, so keep things moving as much as possible to avoid tantrums.

“It varies, but about 20-30 minutes spent doing one thing is about average,” says educational psychologist Kairen Cullen. “Aim for a balance of a different tempo activity – some structured play and unstructured play.”

Firstly, opt for an activity that requires some concentration and adult supervision, like making cupcakes or finger painting. Then follow it up with simply kicking a football around the garden, dressing up or reading a picture book. This will keep them entertained and their brain stimulated adequately.

Step 5 – Have snacks

Little children’s tummies need regular feeding – and remember that hungry toddlers are more prone to the dreaded temper tantrums. Don’t forget to offer out snacks. Be ready with a range of different food bits, like slices of fruit or sliced carrots. Try and steer clear from sweet treats as it’ll ruin their dinnertime appetite, and could lead to a frenzy of sugar-fuelled energy then a big crash and burn.

If the play date involves a mealtime stay-over, provide simple, fun food. You don’t want to make too much work for yourself, or feel disappointed if your efforts aren’t well received. Remember to ask the child’s mum in advance if they have any allergies or big dislikes.

Step 6 – Set the rules

There might be times during the play date where you’ll need to step in and provide some discipline. To avoid this happening too often, set out some rules beforehand. Expect some fallouts as children can get possessive over their toys, but they will loosen up after a while, and it’s a learning curve. If another mum is there with you, she can discipline her own child.

“It’s important to keep the play date as laid back as possible, giving your child the opportunity to guide it,” says child psychologist Angharad Rudkin. “But also make it clear that you are around if things get a bit wobbly. If she gets fractious, tired or seems to have had enough, suggest having some quiet time.”

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Sometimes all it takes is a 10-minute break to calm down and things can settle back in.

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