I came across an article today titled “When to Mediate a Playdate”. It really hit close to home, as I went through a phase were I was avoiding play groups at all costs. As the kids got older, I found the play dates became more and more difficult, and I was left feeling frustrated.
My son turned in to a different child at play dates, especially if we were hosting them. He went from a happy boy playing with his toys to a territorial, frustrated one in a matter of minutes. It became difficult to enjoy the play dates when I was constantly intervening with my son. He was displaying behaviors that I saw as inappropriate and embarrassing so I quickly became a helicopter parent, shadowing my sons every move. I wanted to stop the negative behavior before it happened. Neither of us enjoyed the play date because we were both on high alert constantly. My son because he couldn’t communicate his frustrations, and me because I was disappointed and embarrassed by his actions.
After a few of these disastrous play dates, I finally realized that I was going about things all wrong.
First off I realized that I had to change my expectations. Putting a few children in a room with a bunch of toys will take some mediation. They are not going to get along instantly. When they are in a new environment or their environment changes, they need time to adapt. Children are constantly learning, so introducing them to new challenges and ideas will teach them important social skills in the future. That being said, it won’t happen over night. They don’t understand why someone else is playing with their favorite toy, so its up to us to explain to them, and teach them the importance of sharing. Eventually, we will find ourselves not having to intervene as much, as they learn these new skills. I realized that instead of getting frustrated with my son, I would embrace it and use it as teaching opportunities for both of us.
Next I realized that I needed to give my son some space. Constantly scolding him wasn’t teaching him anything. If I wasn’t allowing him to do anything without intervening, or stopping every outburst how was he suppose to learn. He is old enough now to understand right from wrong, so allowing him time to work things out on his own was essential. You need to make sure the other moms are on board, but if they are, watch your children interact. Some times, they will need you to intervene (so no one gets hurt) but other times, they are able to work it out on their own. I can see a change in my sons behavior now that I am relaxed more. They can sense the tension too without having much of an understanding as to why it is there. So seeing mom more relaxed will help them relax and hopefully play better.
After a few playdates, I was able to see where my sons frustrations stemmed from. He didn’t understand why he had to share his toys, and often hit out of frustration. We worked on sharing at home, so that he knew it was okay to share toys and that in the end we all got a turn. By teaching him these actions, as well as explaining to him what was happening, he seemed to become less frustrated in these situations. We taught him why it was wrong to hit and started asking him to use his words now that he is able to, to explain what is happening first. It showed him that by using his words, people understood what he needed right away, and the need for frustration was minimal.
Its a work in progress of course, but all in all we need to work with our children to ensure they learn these proper social skills. They aren’t going to learn these over night, so our guidance, consistency and reassurance will be key in helping them learn and adapt in different situations.
Do you have any advice for intervening in play groups? What works? Doesn’t work for you?