Making a play for friendship

Playdates are sociable for children, but shouldn’t be forced, says Helen O’Callaghan.

Playdates can be anxious and politically sensitive. Allow your child to pick their friends, says Joanna Fortune, clinical psychotherapist and director of Solamh Parent-Child Relationship Clinic. Children know who they like.

“It can be tempting to try to orchestrate it so your children are friends with the children of your own friends. But when this doesn’t work out, you may have put your own friendship at risk.”

Primary school-children are exploring themselves and their world. “They’ll often be ‘best friends’ with a child for a while and then not want to play with that same child ever again,” she says.

If you have to turn down a playdate on your child’s behalf, keep it simple and casual, says Ms Fortune. “Say: ‘He doesn’t seem that keen to do a playdate right now — you know how children can be about these things.

Thanks for asking, though’.”

Playdates are great for developing social skills, says parent coach Marian Byrne. “If a child’s living where there aren’t many other children, playdates are a vital way of allowing them have that interaction.”

Give the children space during the playdate. Under-fives might need parental input but older children will devise their own games.

“Don’t be a helicopter watching everything. Don’t necessarily be in the same room as them, but pop in and out to keep an eye on things,” Byrne says.

Fortune says invite the other parent into your house for the playdate. “This can help the visiting child settle quicker. And you get to meet the parents, so you can feel comfortable with your child going to their house for a playdate, too.”

She says don’t pressure yourself. “Playdates are a modern phenomenon, replacing the old system where children just went outside on their bikes to play with whoever was around.

You don’t have to host playdates or even have your child go on them — there are many ways for children to develop social skills, such as team activities like sports, girl-guides, scouts.

Avoid things feeling too much like scheduled fun. Children need to experience boredom. It’s how they develop their natural desires. If everything’s very micro-managed, they may never discover what they want to do.


¦ Give space — ensure child has time to play with friends away from younger siblings.

¦ Best playdates are short and sweet and end with everyone still getting on — two hours is probably enough time.

¦ Have contact numbers for visiting child’s parents.

¦ End on a high note even if they’ve fallen out during it. Make crispy buns with them in the kitchen — let visitor take some home.

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