Developing friendship skills takes time and experience. The only way young children will learn social skills is by practice, so even though there are plenty of bumps along the way, it’s worth scheduling playdates with other children.
Here’s how to make it work:
Have realistic expectations.
Young and inexperienced children will need guidance during playtime. Even with supervision, children will get into tussles with each other—and if they didn’t, they’d never learn how to handle the disagreements that are a part of life. Look at these moments as golden teaching opportunities.
Watch for signs of hunger or tiredness.
Children lose patience and good humor when they are tired or hungry. If hunger is the issue, supply a wholesome snack to the group. If tiredness hits, either leave for home or pull out a favorite movie for the kids to watch together.
Choose the right activities.
Sharing toys can be a challenge, so avoid having few special toys to pass among the group. Good choices for group play are things like building blocks, art projects and imaginative play supplies like dress up clothes and play kitchen supplies. Having several different activities to choose from can also help.
Coach them through problems.
Children can get frustrated or angry with a friend, but they don’t have the self-control or wisdom to handle their frustrations in the proper way. You’ll need to teach the kids how to negotiate and compromise when they have a problem. Ask each one in turn to explain what happened. Then guide them through problem solving.
Listen and watch.
You don’t have to mediate every argument. Often children will work through a disagreement on their own. Step in only if the argument continues with no sense of resolution in sight, or if they begin to push or hit each other.
Praise and encourage.
When your child has had a good play session, don’t be shy about giving out compliments. Let your child know that you’re proud of him.
Here’s how to make it work:
Don’t make play dates too long.
Children’s social skills tend to deteriorate over time. Watch your child for signs that it’s time to end the event. One to three hours is usually plenty for young children. As they get more familiar and comfortable in the friendship you can experiment with longer play times.
Don’t force friendships on kids who don’t mesh.
Just like adults, some children click and play well together. Others seem to clash whenever they are together. Try to choose playmates who bring out the best in your child.
Don’t leave the kids alone while the adults socialize.
When children are older you’ll be able to leave them alone to play. Younger children, though, require more monitoring and supervision to keep things running smoothly.
Don’t have too large a group.
If you are having behavior problems, see what happens if you pare down to only two or three children together at a time. The more little personalities in the room, the more likely problems will arise. Once you notice things are consistently going well in the small group, then move on to a bigger playgroup.
Elizabeth Pantley is a parent educator, mother of four, and the author of the classic baby sleep book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, as well as six other books in the “No-Cry Solution” series, on topics such as discipline, picky eating and potty-training. Her books are available in 27 different languages, and she is known worldwide as the practical voice of respectful parenting. This article is excerpted with permission from the No-Cry Discipline Solution. Log on to elizabethpantley.com or nocrysolution.com for more tips from Elizabeth Pantley.