Does Not Playdate Well with Others

I’m doing playdates (for my children) wrong, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

Two recent examples:
At Flora’s request, I invited one of her classmates to the house one Sunday. I picked the girl up, and first we went out to lunch. Kate was with us, too. Flora and her classmate huddled together over her DSi at the restaurant, and giggled about stuff (and picked at their lunches). Kate didn’t seem to mind very much. She wasn’t too wild or whiny, and she ate quite well.

Once we got home, something changed. The classmate didn’t want to do what Flora wanted to do; Flora didn’t want to do with the classmate wanted to do; and suddenly, the classmate and Kate were playing together more.

This didn’t sit well with Flora. As you can imagine. Dan and I were left managing our older daughter’s emotions about the situation.

The second example was less about what happened on the playdate, than what happened before. I actually know why I got blowback on this one. I had committed the girls to a playdate and sleepover, and, frankly, they didn’t want to go. It had nothing to do with the little girl (who is between Kate and Flora in age; she’s in first grade, and isn’t a classmate, but a neighbor); it had to do with activity burnout (we are terribly busy), the weather (they wanted to hunker down with me and Dan), and the fact that *I* had committed them to something without asking. So I know how to deal with that in the future.

After asking them to please do me this favor, go on this playdate, they did agree to, and they did seem to have a good time. They came home Sunday excited about the neighbor’s Xbox and hopped up on Sour Patch Kids. The condition was that I wouldn’t commit them to such things in the future without asking. They can say no. I think that’s pretty fair.

I’m not sure *what* to do in the first scenario. Stop having playdates, of course, is an option. I don’t invite kids over so that I have another little person to supervise. I actually am open to playdates to reduce the number of children I have to supervise — my assumption being that two or three little people will play together, and I will have one or two children to supervise or occupy. That day, I was thinking of stuff to do with Kate while Flora and her classmate played games or something. When that didn’t happen I was caught quite flatfooted.

Of course, there are logistical difficulties in our house right now. We are engaged in demolishing and rebuilding our basement (a project we expect to take months) to turn it into one large area, a great deal of it set aside for our children (and their toys). So the girls can play in their room (which I’m okay with as long as there’s no bed jumping — which, fat chance), or in the front room (where all the toys and the TV are now), or in the kitchen at the table. If M is awake, they like to go to their room… and close the door, which, again, I can’t blame them for. M has to learn that the girls have their own space and he doesn’t have to be included in all their activities.

I also understand that sometimes three is a crowd, that it’s easier or more desirable sometimes to just play with two rather than three. I see this with my daughters all the time. (Does this happen with boys? Is it an age thing? Kate and Flora are only 27 months apart.) When Niece comes over, sometimes tempers flare when all three girls aren’t on the same page — worse when two are and one is left out. I’m not sure if there’s anything to do about this except to tell the one to deal with it and/or offer an alternative activity.

Do you do playdates? Are you good at them? Any advice or commiseration for this mom?

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12 thoughts on “Does Not Playdate Well with Others

  1. Yes, it happens with boys.

    Liam will go next door to play – they have a child his age and older twins who are three years older than Liam. However, sometimes Liam gets along better with one of the twins than with the child his own age and it turns into “But Liam is MY friend!” Over time this issue has gotten much better as they’ve spent extended time together and they’ve all learned that they can ALL get on EACH OTHER’S nerves.

    I think that with Flora, this is what Katrina would call a Valuable Learning Experience. Given how close in age the girls are and the fact that playdates are going to overlap, you’re always going to be managing someone who feels left out. In this case, I think I would have told Flora that while she wasn’t gung ho about doing whatever it was her friend and Kate wanted to do, it would be kinder of her to go along and be a good hostess and try to have fun playing with them. Then, maybe later, they’d want to do something else. I’m not saying that she’s not allowed to have an opinion, just that in SOME situations (not all!) going along to get along is a decent choice and can end up being a lot more fun than fighting and sulking.

    Flora is an eldest child. She is used to telling her siblings what to do and being the Cruise Director, as it were. It doesn’t always work that way on play dates but it’s sometimes hard for kids to see that especially when they’re hosting play dates in their own home.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what I tried to explain to Flora, that she was a host (not a boss). I also was really surprised that she didn’t want to do what her friend wanted to do (basically, arts and crafts). She had her heart set on another activity, and when her friend wasn’t interested she didn’t deal with it well.

      She’s so set in her ways. I wonder where she gets that from. (hint: me.)

      Thanks for the input. I appreciate it.

  2. I’m with Cari. Also: it gets better as they get older.

    What I’ve always done has been to ask, “Do you want to get together with a friend?” — I’ve stopped calling them playdates (partially ’cause my kids are too old for playdates). Just… “Want to invite someone over?” Or “What’s so-and-so up to today?”

    The kids choose who they want to be around. I’m cool with that. There’s only one I don’t particularly like, but my son does, so I suck it up. He’s not a bad influence, just… not a kid I particularly like (okay, he’s really loud and I’m working!) The worst part is that I like his parents. A LOT.

    • I imagine that we will get to that, and they will take it upon themselves to get together, and I am fine with that. At this point, there’s a lot of parental involvement because of the ages.

      That was the other part about the second playdate! Dan and I are starting to be friends with the mom (again, they are neighbors), and I felt bad that I imposed on my kids because I just like the mom, you know? I’ve learned my lesson.

  3. I’m glad to hear someone else struggles with play dates (not glad to hear you had a hard time, just that I’m not the only one). As a working mom, I fear the play date. I just don’t know how to do it. Kudos to you for trying (and I’d say succeeding!) It’s just out of my comfort zone. I need to get over it and do it every once in a while.

    • I didn’t really do playdates until this year. The girls like to see their friends from school. I can contact most of the parents because the school puts out a directory with email addresses and phone numbers. I just feel like it’s been a struggle. I hope I can do better!

  4. My mom always had a rule that there had to be an even number of kids in the house (I had 1 brother growing up). Like if I invited a friend over, my brother invited a friend over too. If there’s a total of 3 kids, then 2 will team up against 1. But if there are a total of 4, then the dynamics will be split more evenly.
    My mom got this rule from a friend, and she told me that at first she thought that having 4 kids in the house would be way more work than having 3, but ultimately having 4 there reduced the stress and strife.

    • That’s not a bad rule. I think once the basement playspace is ready (this summer, I hope), I can make offers like that. “flora, Kate’s having a friend over today. Do you want to invite someone too?” Right now, I feel like the space in our house isn’t conducive to a crowd. I like when the weather is nice, because we have a great yard to run around in.

  5. We never had play dates. We had kids that show up to play or requests to go to their house. Our boys are 14 months apart and they negotiated what they did but we didn’t encourage leaving out whoever happened to be home because friends aren’t possessions, they are people. You have to learn to negotiate needs and desires which occasionally meant k would have invited the kid and because he was being too inflexible the kid ended up playing with t.

    • The reason we have playdates is because the children my kids are friends with don’t live in the neighborhood. The kids who do live here are a little older than Flora and Kate. In general, when the weather is good, if they want to run around with those kids, it’s fine. But their close friends are from school, so things have to be ‘arranged’. 😉

  6. There have been times when my kid just wanted to be with her friend, not the friend’s siblings, but because most families have more than one kid, it often does not work out that way. Your situation was almost the opposite of that, though.

    I like the even number of kids idea, if you can swing it. When we have a kid over, I remind my kid that she should try to do what the friend wants, at least in the beginning and/or for most of the time. But I also tell her to do the same thing when she is elsewhere. As a result, I think my kid ends up being too passive/submissive and then she can’t take it anymore, so the bossy girl comes out. I could probably use Playdate 101 myself. Regardless, I have found girls to be so catty at this age. I swear it started in first grade and I don’t know when it will let up.

    • Yes, part of the difficulty for Flora is she considers herself ‘in charge’ and a little mom, and her friends don’t always respond to that. Having her fight her nature and do what a guest wants to do is hard for her. Whereas Kate’s just happy to have someone beside Flora to play with!

      As I said in the other comment, once things around our house settle down (ha!) logistically, I think having more than one child at a time over will be doable. Right now, I just can’t hack that many little bodies in my space.

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