Recently, I wrote about the importance of children having opportunities to build social relationships with their school friends outside of school. These outside interactions help the children form relationships with the peers they will be in school with for many years. Interactions only in a structured environment promote a different type of interaction as those outside of the school setting. Even meeting at a park or going somewhere together while convenient (and less challenging or messy!), does not promote the same type of interaction as playing together on children’s “own turf.” It is one thing to share communal toys; it is totally different to share your own things. Having sustained interaction with one child for a period of time (one to two hours is plenty) is quite different from playing at school where you can easily move on to another child or group that will accede to your wishes. Spending time together outside of school allows children to discover the commonalities that lead to the development of real friendships.
When trying to help a child develop friendships, it is best to stick to arranging playtimes with one friend at a time but with a variety of children, instead of always with the same child. This helps children widen their circle of friends rather than becoming overly attached or dependent on one person they view as their “best” friend. Don’t limit your child’s outside interactions only to the children of your friends. While these people may be the ones you feel most comfortable with, your combined offspring may have very different interests and personalities.
Before hosting a playdate, it is a good idea to talk to your children about what they might like to do with the friend. If they’re not sure, talk about possibilities so they have a plan, which may or may not end up being followed. It is okay, too, to ask them if there is anything they do not think they will be able to share, and put that item away ahead of time, During playdates, parents should step back and not orchestrate or structure the time, but should be cognizant of what is happening so they can step in to FACILITATE, rather than take control, when needed.