Here are a few ideas for helping your child make the most of playdates.
The return to school in full swing may be a relief for most parents. For those of attending school in person, we are no longer tasked with organizing school schedules, attempting to balance (sometimes faulty) technology, and keeping up with never ending schoolwork. Additionally, frendships are being rekindled and social events we have been so eagerly anticipating are starting to pick back up (at a distance of course). This eager excitment of social fun is great for those kids who are outgoing and connect well with others, but what about those who struggle socially?
If your children are successful social navigators and don’t have trouble picking up where they left off pre-pandemic, congratulations!! Continue to provide appropriate social interactions to further develop those good social skills. However, there are those who dread the return to social interaction and playdates. Whether caused by social anxiety, ADHD, a Language Disorder, or a developmental disorder such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, some children struggle with the social aspect of being back at school. But, fear not! We have a few easy tips that can help make reentry into playdates a little more enjoyable for all.
1) Keep Playdates Small
By now, you’re probably used to reducing social numbers due to the pandemic anyway, so this should not be too challenging. Children who tend to have social weaknesses become easily overwhelmed in larger social gatherings as they struggle to read and interpret the social cues of others and respond appropriately. Larger numbers only make this more challenging. Therefore, keep playdates to 1-2 other kids, as this will make it easier for children with social weaknesses.
2) Schedule “Structured” Playdates
Perhaps only one child comes over for a playdate and your child still struggles. Or, maybe interaction between the two children is minimal. Sometimes, children with social weaknesses don’t naturally understand the concepts of a playdate. They have to be explicitly taught these skills in a clear and organized manner. Therefore, it is helpful to provide a Structured Playdate. Make a very clear outline of what these playdates are going to look like before the playdate begins. For younger children, it is helpful to use pictures and visuals to create a “schedule” of what the playdate will look like and what activities they might want to engage in. As you’re walking your child through this structure, remind him or her of what the expected social behaviors are. For instance, “Remember that when your friend comes over, we want to greet him at the door, look at him, and say hi.” Also, remain relatively close by and attentive in order to redirect and give reminders to follow the structured plan, when needed.
3) Keep Playdates Brief
Everyone gets tired quickly, especially kids. Keeping playdates structured and short will help alleviate fatigue, an unhappy child, and a negative ending to the playdate. It will also give your child a chance to “recharge their social batteries.” If social skills aren’t your child’s strength, then start with one hour and build from there. This will keep everyone happy at the end and excited to do it again.
4) Move Playdates Outside
Thank goodness fall is here! We all know that being outdoors is healthy for us. Try to host play dates outside whenever possible. It naturally allows for social distancing, and provides its own set of activities. This may include a trip to the park, a playdate bike ride, or an organized outside game. Remember, just be sure to give your child an idea as to what the expectations and activities are in advance.