When Playdates Go Bad, What Do You Do?
by Kassandra Brown
A Playdate Ends in Tears
“Bye Mom. See you later!” My daughters cheerfully sent me on my way after agreeing to an impromptu playdate at a new friend, BeeÃs house.
I made sure Bee knew how to reach me and planned to see my daughters in four hours when Bee brought them home. Two hours later, Bee calls and says my youngest, Dash, is crying and just wants to come home. I believe she is probably hungry or needs to use the bathroom, but Dash wonÃt talk to me on the phone and resists BeeÃs attempts to find out whatÃs wrong. Because I want her playdate adventures to be positive experiences, I get in the car and go pick Dash up.
When I get there no one seems to know what was wrong with her. All the kids were playing outside and doing well. Dash asks me to carry her to the car. She has clearly been crying for some time. When I pick her up, I realize her pants are wet. She urinated, feels embarrassed, and doesnÃt know what to do. But Ã«mom will make it betterÃ, so thatÃs what she asked for.
In this case, the cause of the playdates deterioration was clear. My daughter was playing outside and wasnÃt right near a bathroom to take herself or quietly ask her sister to help her. She didn’t feel comfortable asking Bee to help her go potty. Then having an accident in her pants pushed her over her edge and she just wanted the comfort of home and mommy.
With this incident in mind, I started asking: what makes some playdates great? What makes some drag on or melt down? What can we caregivers do to increase our chances of success? Here are some ideas.
Three Elements for Happy Kids
If any of these elements are missing, kids (and adults) tend to act out with whining, aggression, not listening, and seeing each other as adversaries rather than friends
1. Food – kids need to be well fed. Be aware of kids getting overly hungry or eating foods that donÃt nourish them. Whole foods like vegetables, meats, cheeses, and fruits often feed people better than refined treats or snacks. Packing snacks for your children can help. Getting out nourishing food and water when the playdate hits itÃs first “bump” can help too.
2. Bathroom – it can be really hard to let someone else help you pee or poop. Help your children relieve themselves right before the playdate starts. Even for older kids who can take themselves to the bathroom, make sure they know where the potty is. Using it yourself before you leave the kids helps send the kids the message that they can use that bathroom too.
3. Rest – tired kids are more fussy. When hosting the playdate, try creating a space to go to be quiet and out of the center of activity – even just a few pillows in a corner. Sometimes getting a “time out” is a plea for some quiet alone time. Offering a quiet retreat spot gives kids the chance to have quiet without needing to be punished.
But what do we do once a playdate hits a snag or a full-blow melt down? What do we do when we see yelling, hitting, grabbing toys, threatening, withholding, bribing or worse? Here are a few tips with the best one offered right here: notice what’s going on for you, the caregiver. What expectations, thoughts, and feelings are you having while the kids struggle? You can only do so much to change someone else Ãs behavior or experience, but you can create nearly unlimited change and growth through self-introspection.
Getting Back to Fun:
Use these simple tools, together or in combination, to create shifts in everyone’s mood and energy and bring the fun back to the playdate.
- Reflective Listening
- Time In
- Give space to vent hard feelings. Try running and crashing into a big pile of pillows. Crashing into a person holding the pillows can be even more fun but should have strong boundaries set to make sure it stays safe and no one gets hurt.
- Get outside and run, shout, jump, play do big movements that are easy for the kids to do. The sandbox, dirt pile, and park are saviors for getting out big energy and letting conflicts diffuse.
- Notice the escalation happening. Usually there are signs that kids are starting to have a hard time. Use those early signals to redirect while you still can. Any of the above suggestions or asking one child to help you put out snack are all good redirections.
- Take a look at your own reactions. What is hard? Why? What thoughts are you having? Real fears of loneliness, scarcity, and isolation can come up around how our children interact with other children.
- Have a game plan for food, bathroom, and rest that is well rehearsed ahead of time.
- Different houses have different rules. When your child stays at another home, help them understand the new rules by hearing you ask questions about sensitive things. Try asking the other parent “If I get hungry, can I just go into the fridge or do you want me to ask you first? If I need to go potty, do I need to ask you first or is it ok for me to just use it? Can I dry my hands on this towel here or should I use that one there?” It doesn’t exactly matter if your child has the same questions. Hearing you ask questions and hearing your friend answer without getting upset allows your child to feel safer asking their own questions.
- The ultimate ace up your sleeve is love. It is harder to quantify than anything else we’ve said so far, but it Ãs also more powerful. If children know they are loved, wanted, and safe then they are much more likely to cooperate, be friendly, and enjoy their time together. Cultivating your view of the children as real human beings deserving of your compassion, empathy, support, and nurturing might be the best thing you can do to help a playdate go well and to get it on track once something goes wrong.
About the Author:
Kassandra Brown is a mother, parent coach, and yoga teacher living at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural Missouri.
She offers her coaching through www.parentcoaching.org on the phone and Skype in one-on-one and group formats. On of her biggest joys is helping parents use the day-to-day ups and downs of parenting as a powerful lens for personal growth and happiness.