Are you a kid? I know someone of you will answer, “yes, at heart”. But, if you’re reading this blog you’re more likely a parent than a kid. And when it comes to playdates, there’s an important distinction.
During your adult life, whether it be in high-school, college, your career, or even your marriage. Your peer group are the people that you interact with most and these are the people you become friends with. Of course, you’ll have bosses, teachers, professors, and other people who exert a certain level of authority over you. But, the dynamics of those relationships are different than those with your peers.
Kids typically adore their parents. I’m fortunate enough that my son still thinks I’m the best thing since sliced bread. But, I am his dad. I set the rules. I have a certain authority over him that provides me a certain level of respect by default. Negotiations and arguments can be solved very quickly because of this.
Do I negotiate with my son? Yes. Does he win some of the time? Yes. Does he win against his mother? No. Haha. All kidding aside, the dynamic is different between parents and their children.
What we want to foster in our children is the ability to navigate social situations with their peers AND have respect for those in a position of authority or leadership.
I play with my son A LOT. We build Lego’s. We play board games. We play with action figures. We go snowboarding. And I consider these all opportunities to challenge him, inspire him, and let him be as creative as his potential necessitates.
But with playdates, you’re starting with a level playing field. The social hierarchy is either not established or very malleable. Who will emerge as the leader? Who is coming up with the ideas? How will they cooperate? How will they resolve differences? How will they solve problems they encounter?
Kids need to experience and work through these challenges with each other. After all, throughout their entire life, they will face the same challenges only in different environments as they get older. Without an adult in the equation to “take the lead” and step in to solve the problems, the kids are forced to learn how to do this on their own.
Try and remember the last time you really learned something? Speaking for myself, I taught myself how to write software. I taught myself (to a large degree) college mathematics. I taught myself how to create a business from the ground up. What I know about those experiences is that I had to a) talk to a lot of other people who had more experience than I did, and b) I had to experience a lot of failures to learn from my mistakes.
When kids play with each other they are both learning from each other and making a lot of mistakes. It’s how we learn. Within the context of a Playdate, they are learning how to have relationships that are rewarding,
That said, all playdates aren’t created equal. A playdate where the kids sit down in front of the TV and veg out for 2 hours is not helping your kids be social. That’s just using technology to babysit the kids. We’ve all done it. No judgment here. Sometimes we really NEED that break.
If you want to raise rock-star kids though, you have to have playdates with intention.
What I believe an excellent playdate is when you have more than 2 kids together. Let’s say 4. I know from experience that 3 can cause a 3rd wheel effect and can lead to someone feeling left out. Plan what the activities are going to be on the Playdate. For example, start with a 15-minute snack and let the kids just talk to each other. That loosens everyone up and gives them a little extra energy.
After that, make a list of games they can play. Give them choices but let those be choices you’ve chosen so it doesn’t end up being just Minecraft or something where they may zone out. Maybe you could start with a board game or some imaginative play. If they don’t know the rules, teach it to them.
Then, get out of the way. Don’t hover. Don’t micro-manage. But… Do observe. Kids will inevitably start having problems. Conflicts will arise. Bad behaviors will emerge. That’s fine. Actually, if this happens you’re going to be able to teach them. Just don’t jump in too early.
Wait and see if they can resolve matters on their own first!
Once you can tell things are not going to resolve on their own, step in in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way. You’re going to teach them how to resolve the problem that they didn’t know how to resolve before. You need to facilitate a discussion where ultimately, they feel like they resolved it themselves. This is how they will learn,
If you’re reading this, and you aren’t the one attending the playdates, have this discussion with your nanny, spouse/partner, family member, or babysitter that does attend the playdate. Every playdate that doesn’t include some level of learning new social skills is a wasted opportunity and will only delay how quickly your child will become the rock star he/she deserves to be.