Keep It Short, Supervised and Fun: The experts agree: Play dates are a great way for children of elementary school age to practice socializing. But the perfect play date should be short and structured, Adesman says.
The idea here is that if a play period lingers too long, the kids may grow bored or tired and an argument likely will erupt, he says. “How long a play date lasts depends on the children’s age, the activities planned and the interest and availability of the parent. But there is no reason why a play date can’t be an hour or more if the parent is willing to be involved.”
This issue of parental involvement is key, says Adesman. Parents should hover near the action instead of sending the kids to the basement and enjoying a break. “You want to make sure that your son or daughter isn’t going to be overly dominating or ignoring the interests of their friend,” he explains.
If your child acts up during the play date, don’t be afraid to intervene, adds Mikami. “Let’s say your child always forgets to use an inside voice. Talk it over with them before hand and say, ‘I’m going to have a secret signal, and what it means is that it’s time to lower your voice.’ ”
Then, when the friend arrives, sit back and let the kids play, and if your child’s voice grows too loud, flash the secret signal, says Mikami. “Don’t pick more than one or two consistent problems to focus on at a time, because it just gets too overwhelming,” she adds. “But, if you flash the signal and the child responds, give them a thumbs up or a really big smile right away.”
And later, when the friend finally leaves, praise your child again and extensively for a job well done, she says.
“Remember not to lose sight of the big goal,” Mikami adds. “You want the kids to have fun and deepen their friendship, and you want them to want to play together again.”