Big Question: How Do I Keep Playdates From Going Wrong?
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My just turned four-year-old son Evan is in nursery school five days a week from 9 until 3 each day. Several days a week he asks to have a playdate at our house with one of his friends from school. All goes well for about 1 hour and then things go terribly wrong for the second hour with lots of acting out by Evan. What should I do?
I love that you are allowing Evan to spend time with his school friends, it will really strengthen their connection at school as well. I do think that there are a few things to keep in mind however when trying to make this time as productive and enjoyable as possible.
Let's start with Evan's already packed schedule: six hours of socialization is already a lot for one day, so adding an extra 2 hours of sharing toys etc. may be a bit too much. I would pull back to just an average of one playdate per week and I would shorten it to about an hour. I know that this can be a challenge for a lot of reasons, especially if the grown-ups come along and want to have more time to catch up. Just so that there is no misunderstanding, you might want to alert the parent or caregiver that a shorter visit is in order when you issue the invitation. Most people who have dealt with an exhausted child will be understanding.
Just as important as not overtaxing your son with social interaction, is getting into the habit of planning his time with a friend. The day of the playdate you could ask him what he is looking forward to doing with his playdate. You could both think of a special activity they would like to do together, like making a batch (or buying) some playdough. Or if you have an outdoor space, bringing some indoor toys out to stimulate some new ways to use them. Together you could plan a special snack to share as well. It wouldn't hurt to have one or two of Evan's favorite books on hand to read to them if things fall apart. Sometimes when left to their own devices kid's work things out, but it never hurts to prepare for the alternative.
Not only might this keep things short and sweet, it sets up the kind of planning that can be applied with all sorts of other social situations such as birthday parties, trips to the grandparent's, etc.