January 13, 2011 – Here are some tips on designing “play dates” with a developmental purpose!!! I hope these are helpful…First we must find an appropriate play mate for your child: Instead of thinking about supporting children “socially,” think about supporting children “developmentally!” It is critical to arrange play dates with other children who match or are in sync with your cherub’s developmental level so that each of them benefit from the interaction. If your cherub attends school, seek guidance from his/her teacher with a specific request for developmental matching. Now, here are some general guidlines…I hope you can use these as a “framework,” while adding in your own creative spice to the mix!!! 1. A beginning and an end: Your cherubs should be informed both verbally and visually of when the play date is starting and finishing. You may need to use a visual timer or clock. 2. 90 minutes maximum: 90 minutes is ample time for a play date. A parent should open with a snack and drink, engage in an activity, and end with a snack and drink. We want to give the cherubs the signal of fueling their brains and bodies, while providing a nurturing component of self-regulation. A parent must KNOW what both children will enjoy, and if the snack has a process to making it, make sure you include the children…be creative!!! Remember, children LOVE thematic interactions!! If the play date is out in the community, make sure you pack “savory/favorite” snacks for all children involved. This process helps your child to have a positive start to finish. 3. Plan: Have a plan before you play!! By knowing your child’s developmental levels, you can plan for an activity that is engaging, exciting, and interactive for both children. Remember, the idea is for the cherubs to play together at their current level, so activities like water balloons, bowling, car races, bike riding, baking, arts and crafts, and obstacle courses facilitate a “joining” effect. It is best not to have “open play,” with toys, but rather more structured activities that include props and affective adult engagement that will facilitate organization, regualtion, and ultimate engagement!! 4. Location: Play dates need to have a specified location whether it is the park, your back yard, or the living room as children stay better regulated when boundaries are set. If children are allowed to simply roam or run around your home, you will be faced with disorganized behavior, which can result in anxiety, stress, tantrums, etc!! Be sure to set the rules of your home, and let everyone in your home know your parameters of the play date!! Consistency is KEY to SUCCESS!! 5. Parent Participation: Parents are PIVOTAL to a successful play date!! You must be interested and involved…turn off or silence your cell phones, computers or anything that distracts you!! Children KNOW what you love the most by your level of attention and engagement!! At times I understand it is a “parental treat,” to chat with other parents and enjoy one another’s company…but this is NOT the time….try to arrange a coffee, walk, or lunch for your “parental social time.” These times are EQUALLY important, so take time for yourself too!! 6. Snacks: Make sure you have enough snacks as well as “parent approved” snacks available for all players!! If play dates will be in your own home, here are a few more specific tips: 1. Put your cherub’s FAVORITE toys away…far away…during the play date…It is emotionally very important that your child KNOWS you will keep his/her “treasured” toys SAFE!!! 2. House Rules: COMMUNICATE your house rules to ALL involved!! Folks need to know what you will allow in your home, such as jumping on furniture, eating around the house, shoes on or off while inside, opening doors and cabinets, safe areas of your home etc….When you allow others to BREAK rules in your own home, your cherub does not feel safe, as they are trying to understand and map in rules, and boundaries. 3. Snacks: Make sure you are aware of any possible food allergies before serving a snack to a friend. 4. Finish Well: Remember to END the play date at the “set” time!! This is not a time for parental chatting either!! Your cherub needs to access your sensory sytem for emotional closure of the play time whether or not it was a great success or a perceived disaster!! We want to make sure we walk folks to the door, or to the car and say our good byes and thank yous in a timely manner. Upon completion, take some time to review the play date verbally or with pictures you snapped during it, to help your child close the time at his/her maximum sensory capacity!! OK…you are off to HAVE FUN!!! –DK