Arranging and Managing Successful Playdates

Sherry Grossman, Director, Consultation and Coaching, Gateways

Tips for parents on making the best of downtime

Believe it or not, the next vacation for Passover or spring break is around the corner. This can be a wonderful time for rest and relaxation for children and time for playdates with friends. But for some children, playdates can be complicated situations to manage. Socialization does not come easily, and certain disabilities make unstructured play a challenge.

This is where parents can play a role in making playdates successful.  Consider the following: 

Planning the structure for a play date

To help mediate the “unstructured” component of most playdates, it can be valuable to set up some expectations at the start of your child’s time with his/her friend. What’s the Group Plan for the play date? Talk about what is expected and what are unexpected behaviors at different homes. Share the basics out loud:  “Our family plan is different from other folks’ plans. We want you to have a special time, so let’s make sure the rules are clear.”  Where will the children play? 

girls eating watermelon

What toys do you want to make available?  What is okay and what do you want to put away?  When will you provide a snack and what will it be? How can you facilitate clean up together?  What are realistic limits about the total time of the play date, and how do you get everyone ready to go home?  Who is picking up our friends?

What’s your role?  Besides checking with your child about who s/he wants to have over for a play date and setting up the time, as a parent you need to wear many different hats!   Your role will run the gamut from facilitator, stage manager, prop creator, mediator or rule enforcer.  How much supervision and interaction is needed?  The most important thing is how we support our kids to create a plan that they can actually “play”.


What is play?  Why is it so important for kids and for each of us? 

Play provides a time to practice life skills including perspective taking, flexibility , negotiating, problem solving and sharing space effectively when interacting with peers and materials in a way where ideas get shared and mixed.  Skills of the players evolve over time. When you make yourself available and offer support to your kids to open up to learning from and through play in their early years they’ll be ready to take on a partner for the science project, soccer team, special events and simply learn to develop and deepen lasting friendships.

Take the time to explore who your children choose as their playmates.  Consider when to make time to set the stage for play to be healthy, joyful and creative.  Make sure you can see the difference between having a planned craft activity from having the props available for kids to create a fort or tea party. Make time for both a defined adult-directed project like making ice cream or baking cookies and bringing out the cardboard boxes to paint or blocks to build with.

And, most of all, remember that playdates should be fun, but they are also learning opportunities. Successful playdates provide a platform for developing new skills for you and your child.

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