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Planning a Play Date
Children have play dates all the time. Play dates are a great way for your child to learn and practice social skills in his or her “natural environment.” Play dates can reinforce lessons learned at social skills groups or in school, or they can offer opportunities to expand existing skills. By providing a thoughtful plan and structure for the play date, you will increase the predictability and hopefully help your child to have a more successful experience. To help you plan, here are some questions you may want to consider:
Should the play date begin immediately after school? Is my child too tired after school? Would a change in the regular routine be confusing? Or should the play date be on a day my child doesn’t go to school? If so, should the play date mimic regular school hours?
What should we do?
Which activities are the most fun for your child? Can he or she share this activity with a friend? For example, playing with Thomas the Tank Engine and friends might be fun when your child is alone or with family, but it might be too hard for him or her to share. Maybe it would be best to share more ‘neutral’ toys, such as Lego™ pieces, or other building blocks. Or maybe the activity could be cooking a snack together and then sharing it with the moms or caretakers as a snack.
Who could you invite? Is this a friend that “goes with the flow,” or a friend that his own set of needs? It may be a good idea to ask for a suggestion from your child’s teacher. Think about whether you want to invite the other child’s parent or caretaker to stay. This is sometimes expected with young children, but may be helpful if the other child has any communication difficulties or challenging behavior. Another parent can also help you facilitate play.
What about snacks?
Be prepared in case your child or the playmate gets hungry. Find out if the friend has any allergies or is on a special diet, and be accommodating or ask the other child’s parents to bring along an appropriate snack.
How long should the play date last?
A good play date ends when the children are happy and want to come back for another date. A short, fun time is better than a date with meltdowns and unhappy friends.
It is a good idea to prepare your child for what to expect when hosting a play date. Social Stories™ are a good way to do this. Also, there are a number of good books about friendship, which are probably available at your local library.