Having a play date during the holidays will not only help your child to maintain their friendships but it will also give you a bit of quiet time during the summer break. Playdates also have a bigger impact on your child's cognitive development than you might have thought. It helps your child to practice their social skills, strengthen their connection with their friends (as they develop shared experiences) and will make it easier for them to make the transition back to pre-school/nursery after the holidays.
It is important to remember that play dates are not a one-off make or break event. A disastrous play date needn't be the end of all other organised play times thereafter. As when adults get together with friends and acquaintances, some get-togethers feel better than others. Often this can be due to basic factors like tiredness, hunger, anxiety, or it may just be because the activity isn't that appealing.
If you are setting up a play date for the first time for your little one there are a few key points that will help it be good enough to repeat:
- Keep it short. Halve the age of your child and that should be the length of a play date (i.e. 1 hour for a 2 year old, 1.5 hours for a 3 year old). Far better to keep it short, with your child wishing it could go on, than have a longer playdate which ends in tears because they've had enough of one another. As your child gets older and more familiar with their friend you can gradually increase the time.
- Have a plan for the playdate. At this age, children still need adult support in structuring their play. Ask your child what they would like to play when their friend comes over and get 2-3 activities out so that they are accessible and available. It's also a good idea to provide a toy that aids both independent and group play. VTech's New Toot-Toot Animals Pet Hotel allows children to direct their own play either on their own or with their friend. It's ok if the children end up playing something completely different but having the extra activities will at least allow you to have a back-up if they suddenly get bored.
- Role model appropriate social behaviour during the play date. Talk to your child's friend, listen to them, be polite and look after them. This will show your child what the unspoken rules of friendships are - respect and care. Children learn more from watching than being told, so make the most of this playdate to show how you would like your child to behave.
- If you suspect that play may become boisterous, set up some house rules together when your child's friend first arrives. Talk together about how there is no hitting in this house and if anyone is worried about getting hurt then they should come to you.
- Involve some eating activity, even if this is just some fruit and a biscuit. Sitting down together to eat keeps the energy levels up and minimises low-blood sugar meltdowns and also gives you a chance to regroup after playing.
- Relax and enjoy it - don't worry about mess, or what the child is going to report about you back home. The more you relax, the more your child will.
- If you invite the friend's parent over to stay while they play, make sure you both spend time supporting your children's play while also getting to know one another. It is easy to get absorbed in your own conversation and to only pay attention to the children when a fight breaks out!
After the play date is over, chat to your child about it. What did they enjoy, what would they have liked to be different? Even if your child is too young to answer some of the questions, they will get a sense that they have some control over play dates and will be happier to have one again.
Dr Angharad Rudkin is VTech's Child Psychologist - keep checking back for her next column exclusive to Female First!