Avoiding the Disastrous Play Date
By Janet M. Krebs
“I am so upset because my child was not invited to Charlie’s birthday party. They invited everyone in the class except my son.“ This is a painful scenario which plagues many a parent, particularly if their child has language or behavioral issues. Children with social pragmatic language disorders often have difficulty making friends. They don’t receive the same number of play date invitations. They may be excluded from birthday parties and other group social functions. If it wasn’t for the parent, they might spend their non-school time alone. There is little that is more painful for the parent to absorb than the social rejection of their child.
As a facilitator of social pragmatic language therapy programs, I often see desperate parents who push their child to play with someone, no matter how appropriate or inappropriate this child is. Once parents see their child connecting with another peer they will throw themselves into cultivating a relationship so their child can have a friend. Very often, the need for this friendship is more to satisfy the parent’s need than the child’s need. In order to avoid another failed social relationship, I generally set down very specific rules to the parents of children I treat.
1. Ask your child in private if they would like to play with this child before you make a date.
2. Encourage your child to invite this child to have a play date.
3. Have the first encounter in neutral territory (park, mall, museum, bowling, movies, etc)
4. Keep it short. An hour or an hour and a half is plenty for the first date.
5. Suggest an agenda to your child ahead of time complete with contingencies if the other child is not in agreement about the activities.
6. Maintain a presence throughout the play date, but try not to interfere unless you can easily call your child aside and make a quiet suggestion to help over a bump in the road.
7. If having a second play date, try to import some of the successful experiences from the first date.
8. Review the play date with your child afterwards and discuss the successes that occurred.
It is often a hard lesson to learn that the reason your child has connected with another child in a social therapy group is because the group interaction is facilitated by a knowledgeable professional. In the absence of this professional, the interaction with another child might not turn out to be such a positive experience. If you keep this information in mind, your child will be more likely to have a positive play date.