Category Archives: Parenting Skills

Taking the Negativity out of Conflict

Last month, we had a guest speaker at my church – Tim Dawes, an author, consultant and TEDx speaker – who offered a powerful approach to conflict based in compassion and respect.

Drop-Shift-Give

When you find yourself in a conflict you can’t see a way out of:

  1. Drop whatever approach is putting you at odds. (Arguing, accusing, making threats, trying to change their mind or change their behavior.)
  2. Shift your focus to the other person’s perspective. What is their experience / how are they feeling?
  3. Give – Acknowledge what they want, validate their experience. You really need to accept and respect that this is their experience. (Note, this is not necessarily saying that they’re “right”, just acknowledging their view.)

This creates a connection between you and the other person. After you do these three steps, it is as if you have set a place at the table for their needs. Then you can bring your needs to the table and can sit down and have a real conversation about how to move forward. You may see new options you didn’t see before, and may be able to quickly negotiate solutions that work for both of you.

If you are feeling wronged or hurt, it can be hard to let go of arguing. If you’re a parent, it’s hard to let go of teaching and correcting. If you have strong opinions, it can be hard to let go of trying to convince someone you’re right and they’re wrong. But arguing, correcting and convincing can prolong an argument.

Examples

My oldest child resisted putting toys away. It was an on-going conflict where I battled him again and again. At one point, I dropped my usual tactics for a moment and asked him to explain things from his perspective. He said that when all the toys were put away, the house looked like a place where no one was allowed to have fun. I acknowledged that this was his truth. Then we sat down and negotiated some compromises we could both live with.

My youngest got into a battle at school today. He was upset at getting tagged out in gaga ball. When someone else tried to get him to calm down by saying “it’s just a game”, that upset him more. Rather than try to convince him that he should relax and that a game is not worth getting upset over, I dropped that approach and shifted to curiosity – asking him to explain his perspective. He shared that games are really important to him, whether that’s gaga ball or video games or a board game, and he doesn’t like that people trivialize them all the time. Spending some time talking about his thoughts on this and validating them “brought him to the table” to where we could have a conversation about how he could have reacted differently today.

I appreciated learning this new tool for approaching conflict and look forward to exploring it more.

Understanding Procrastination

Whether your child puts off their chores, or your partner never quite gets around to the the “honey-do” list, or you’re frustrated at your own tendency to get lost in not-so-important tasks instead of doing the important-but-not-fun tasks, this article in the New York Times offers great insight: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html.

When we procrastinate, we know we’re doing it to avoid something, and we know it’s not a good idea, but we do it anyway. Why? It’s not a time management or organizational issue – it’s an emotion regulation issue. Certain tasks inspire negative moods for us: anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment or other challenging emotions.

When we procrastinate, we are prioritizing short term pleasant mood over longer term issues. And the more we put off one task, the more negative feelings get wrapped around it as we add in self-blame and increased stress. And then we’re even more inclined to seek out a different activity to get relief, putting it off even longer. It becomes a vicious cycle, and can lead to long-term chronic stress and low life satisfaction.

So, once you understand the emotional aspects of task avoidance, how do you get past them? The NY Times article phrases these in ways to overcome your own tendency to procrastinate. That’s the first bullet point in each pair. The second one in each pair is how you might translate this when addressing your child’s procrastination.

  • Self-forgiveness – instead of beating yourself up for procrastinating, forgive yourself… that may make it easier to do the task the next time around.
  • Compassion: “Hey, this time you procrastinated a lot, but I know it was just because you were really frustrated about X. Next time, I bet it will go better.”
  • Cultivate curiosity – Pay attention to how you’re feeling and wonder why you feel that way.
  • Help them be curious: “How are you feeling right now? What do those feelings remind you of? Is there some way we could help you feel better while doing this task?”
  • Consider the next action as a mere possibility “If I WERE going to do this, even though I’m not, what would I do first?” Try it out… often if you get started without pressuring yourself, the motivation will follow.
  • Help them imagine “if your teddy bear needed to do this thing, where would they start? Could you show them the first step?”
  • Make temptations more inconvenient. If you procrastinate by grabbing your phone and checking social media, try putting the phone across the room. If you stall by tidying up, keep things tidy or move to a different space to work. If you take a lot of snack breaks, don’t work near the kitchen, or have less interesting snacks.
  • Whatever tends to distract them from their task, can you put it out of sight?
  • Make the thing you’re avoiding as easy as possible to do. Pack your gym bag in advance and keep it in the car.
  • Make the thing your child is avoiding easier or more enjoyable. Watch a movie together while they fold laundry or listen to music together as they clean their room. Put their homework out with their snack and encourage them to finish it quickly so they can move on to other things.

It is easy to view procrastination as a character flaw that can’t be overcome or blame it on “I just need to be more organized.” But perhaps acknowledging that you’re avoiding the task because of negative feelings the task brings up may help you get to the root issue and move past that procrastination.

To learn more, check out the original article in the NY Times!

Becoming the Parent you Want to Be

Often as parents we find ourselves making things up as we go along – we think about what we want our kids to do right now, then take actions that give us quick results in the moment. Those actions may or may not be in alignment with our long term goals or visions of yourself as a parent – I’m sure we’ve all had moments of thinking “I can’t believe I just said/did that!!”

One step you can take toward becoming the parent you want to be is to define – in writing – what that means. This can begin with a process of brainstorming your goals and values, maybe even writing a vision and a mission statement. Then as you find yourself muddling through your parenting days, you can occasionally take time to reflect – am I on course toward my goals? What could I do to course correct a bit? You don’t have to be perfect every day if you’re remembering to check in from time to time to make sure you’re still pointed in the right general direction.

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Brainstorming the Basics

Here are some questions to ask yourself to discover what’s important to you.

  • What are your family’s strengths? What do you do best?
  • What are the most important values you want to pass on to your child?
    • What is the place of education in your family? What value do you place on work?
    • What are your family’s attitudes toward money?
    • How do you view religion/spirituality, and what part does that play in your daily life?
    • How important is it to you to help other people or participate in your community?
  • How would you like to relate to one another?
  • When do you feel most connected to one another?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What makes you fulfilled –brings you satisfaction, leaves you with a sense of completeness?

Answering those questions may be the insight you need to get started.

Figure out what the endpoint looks like

Another approach is “Begin at the end” – think ahead 15 years. What is your vision for:

  • What is your child like as a person?
    • What skills have you nurtured in them: Curiosity? Confidence? Compassion? Determination?
    • What are your child’s core values? (see above)
    • If your child is “successful”, what does that look like?
  • What are the relationships amongst members of your family like?
  • How would you like your child to describe what it was like to grow up with you as a parent?

Creating a Vision Statement

What is a vision statement?

  • It describes what your ideal family life would look like and what you want your family to be someday.
  • It provides inspiration for what you hope to achieve in five, ten, or more years;
  • It functions as the “north star” – helps you understand how your work every day ultimately contributes towards accomplishing over the long term; and,
  • An effective vision statement is inspiring, yet short and simple enough that you could repeat it out loud from memory

Some sample visions from organizations are: “To improve the health and well-being of each person we serve.” (a hospital)  “To inspire students to create a better world.” (a school) “We believe that strong families begin at home and building strong families creates thriving, healthy communities.” (a family support organization)  “To be a vibrant and welcoming community, feeding the human spirit, lighting a. beacon for love and justice.” (a church.)

Write your parenting vision statement. (Try several approaches until you find the one that sings to you.)

Creating a Mission Statement

A Mission statement focuses on a shorter time frame (1 – 3 years). There are lots of possible formats. One format answers three questions

  • WHAT you will do – what specific actions will you take?
  • HOW you will do it – what will be the quality of your actions (this is where you can articulate your values for how you want to interact with your family)
  • WHY – what results or benefits you will see when you look at your kids / your family in a few years?

Here are some sample missions, from the web… I don’t endorse any in particular, they’re just examples.

We are a family who believes that relationships matter most! We value spending time together. We hold each member of our family accountable for responsible behavior. We support each other in our individual pursuits of personal and professional interests. We cheer each other on. We laugh whenever possible. We hold our marital relationship as a top priority because this relationship serves as the foundation of our family. www.everythingmom.com/dynamics/the-family-vision-statement-a-solution-for-challenging-decisions.html

Our home will be a place where are family, friends, and guests find joy, comfort, peace and happiness. We will seek to create a clean and orderly environment that is livable and comfortable. We will exercise wisdom in what we choose to eat, read, see, and do at home. We want to teach our children to love learn, laugh, and to work and develop their unique talents. www.happyfamilyhappylife.com/examples-of-a-family-mission-statement/

Our family mission: To always be kind, respectful, and supportive of each other, To be honest and open with each other, To keep a spiritual feeling in the home, To love each other unconditionally, To be responsible to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life, To make this house a place we want to come home to. [also from happy family… cited above]

I choose to raise children who are respectful and believe they are worthy of respect. I choose to raise children who are confident and who know themselves enough to be true to the song in their hearts. I choose to raise children who are kind and caring and see kindness and caring in the world as well. I choose to raise children who are honest and value the power of truth. [in the post, the author gives concrete examples of how their parenting will reflect this mission http://lusaorganics.typepad.com/clean/2011/12/a-peaceful-parenting-mission-statement.html]

Implementing Your Vision & Mission

Write your Vision & Mission down, and post it where you can see it.

Review it on a regular basis and see how you’re doing.

Narrowing the Vision – Action Gap: when the theory of what kind of parent we wish we were meets the reality of how we respond to our child when we’re tired and they’re challenging, it can be easy to get discouraged. Be gentle with yourself – don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes, just use it to help you remember your goals. Ask yourself what you could do differently the next day to move in that direction.

Revise your mission as needed to in order to reflect new values, hopes, and dreams.

More Resources:

On this blog:

  • Here is a free printable worksheet for developing a mission/vision statement.
  • Read about Parenting Style: Authoritarian, Permissive, Balanced and Uninvolved are ways to describe the intersection between how high the demands are that you place on your child, and how responsive your rules are to their individual needs and goals. Are you your child’s Boss? their Friend? A Friendly Boss?
  • Read about Connecting Your Child with their Cultural Identity. What traditions and values will you bring in from your cultural background?
  • Think about what rituals you will incorporate – how will you celebrate holidays? What about the tooth fairy? Bedtime routines? It’s often the little things that define our families.

Elsewhere:

Coronavirus and the Return to School

As a parent, and as a teacher, I look at all the information on rising case rates with the delta variant, and I worry – is going back to in-person school a reasonable choice at this time? I think the answer depends on a large number of factors. I’m going to walk you through questions to consider, using three examples: my current home of Kirkland Washington (in King County), and my home town of Cheyenne Wyoming (in Laramie County) and Dallas Texas. All numbers current from the week 8/16-20/21.

The questions to consider are:

  • Chance of Exposure: how common is the virus in your area? How contagious is it?
  • Reducing Community Spread: the more people in the community that have some immunity through vaccination and/or previous infection, the better, because that means fewer people in the community who will catch and transmit the virus.
  • Risk Reduction: what is being done in the community / school to reduce children’s chance of catching coronavirus?
  • Disease Severity: if a child does get coronavirus, how sick will they get?
  • Your Goals for Your Child’s Learning this Year

It’s worth noting at the top that the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged a return to in-person schooling, saying “the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances.”

What are the current infection rates?

So, first, let’s look at: how common is coronavirus in the community – this shows how likely it is that you could be exposed. In King County, over the past 7 days, there were 180 cases per 100,000 or ~1.8 per 1000 in 7 days. In Laramie County, they report 508 cases in the last 14 days in a county of ~90,000 people, so the equivalent of ~2.8 per 1000 people in 7 days. In Dallas, they’re currently reporting 1000+ cases a day, the equivalent of 2.7 per 1000.

How contagious is coronavirus?

The original COVID-19 strain had an R0 of around 2 – if there wasn’t any immunity in the people an infected person came in contact with, each sick person could get two other people sick (who then infect four people and so on).

The Delta variant is much more contagious. If there’s no immunity, one sick person can infect 5 or more other people, who then infect 25 or more people and so on.

With Delta, if there was no immunity and no attempts at prevention, the spread would be very rapid. Thankfully, we can gain some immunity through vaccination or some immunity through previous infection with COVID, and we can reduce risks with practices like masking, distancing, and ventilation.

What percent are vaccinated?

The best protection against COVID is the vaccine. In King County, WA, 71% of the total population has received at least one dose. (On the Eastside of Seattle, WA, vaccination rates are high: amongst people over 12 years old, 91.7% have received at least one shot. And amongst our elders – the most vulnerable to COVID – over 95% are fully vaccinated.) In Cheyenne, 35.4% of the total population is fully vaccinated. In Dallas, 54% one dose, 38% fully.

Vaccines do not completely prevent infection. But they significantly reduce the risk.

May be an image of text that says 'Breakthrough cases are not driving the US Covid-19 surge Reported cases among not fully vaccinated AK 96% Reported cases among fully vaccinated AZ 94.1% AR 96.4% CA 98.6% CT 99.9% DE 99% DC 98.7% ID 98.8% IN 98.9% ME 98.7% MA 99% MI 98.4% MO 96.8% NE 99.6% NJ 99.8% NM 98.9% OK 99.2% RI 98.3% OR 98.1% TN 99.7% UT 96.8% VT 98.4% VA 99.3% WA 98% Source: Kaiser Family Foundation Note: Case data recent months, as of July Vox'

If someone does get a breakthrough infection, the illness will be much milder, and they’re much less likely to be hospitalized or die. (In the U.S., there have been ~8000 fully vaccinated people who have been hospitalized or died, but that is a small number amongst the 166 million people who have been fully vaccinated. With Delta, the numbers are increasing, but still the chance of severe illness or death is lower amongst the vaccinated.)

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What percent have a previous COVID infection?

If someone has already had COVID, they may have immunity against it. (One study found that 92% had immunity 6 months after infection.) It’s recommended that those who have had it also add the layer of vaccination. Amongst people with previous infection, those with no vaccination were 2.5 times more likely to get re-infected than those who had also been vaccinated.

In King County, there have been ~127,000 confirmed cases. That’s about 4% of the population. In Laramie County, there have been 9832 confirmed cases. That’s about 10% of the population. In Dallas County, 287,000 or 11% of population.

Risk Reduction

Look at what is being done in your community and in the child’s school to reduce the risk of transmission. Think about layers of protection – covering coughs, masks, hand-washing, increased ventilation / outdoor activities, and social distancing. (Here are recommendations from the AAP – American Academy of Pediatrics.)

In the parent-child classes that I teach and at my son’s school, we are: requiring vaccines for all adults in the classroom, requiring masks indoors for everyone over the age of 5 and recommending for age 2 – 5, creating routines for frequent handwashing, increasing ventilation and the amount of time spent outdoors, splitting kids into cohorts or setting up rotation between activities to increase social distance. We also live in a community where a large percentage of people are masking everywhere they go, so I know our children have less community exposure in many places. I am feeling fairly confident about our protocols.

I would feel much less confident in Cheyenne. Their school district website does not mention COVID vaccines or describe any protocols other than saying they will decide on August 20 whether or not they’ll be requiring masking. I’ll also say that as we’ve been around Cheyenne this week, few people are wearing masks. And in Texas, there are battles between school districts, courts, and the governor about whether schools will be allowed to require masks and a lot of political and popular rhetoric about masks as an imposition on personal freedom.

What if a child gets COVID?

So, I can look at how likely it is my child might catch COVID and what all steps are being taken to reduce the risk, but I also have to ask what the impact would be if these steps did not prevent infection.

For most children, COVID is a mild infection with cough, fever, and body aches, or no symptoms at all. (More about symptoms.)

For some children, it can be severe, leading to severe illness (including MIS-C), hospitalization or death. Children who are obese, have diabetes or have chronic lung disease are at higher risk. Black and Latino children are also at higher risk.

Let’s take a moment to compare COVID risk to risks that we considered normal in past years. Let’s look at flu which has an R0 of 0.9 – 2. In 2019, when we weren’t doing much to prevent flu beyond typical school hygiene, there were an estimated 12 million cases of the flu in our 75 million children age 0 – 17. So, 16% of children had the flu. There 254 deaths, so a 5 in 100,000 chance of death after contracting flu.

Between February 2020 and May 2021 (source), when many schools across the country were shut down and we were taking many steps to prevent COVID transmission but there were no vaccines, there were an estimated 26 million COVID infections in children age 0 to 17. (There have been 3.7 million confirmed cases, but the CDC estimates that we’re missing lots of cases of kids who are asymptomatic or barely sick so don’t get tested.) There were 332 deaths. That’s a 1 in 100,000 chance of death after contracting COVID. The majority of those deaths were in children with other health conditions.

In academic year 20-21, when adults were at higher risk and couldn’t be vaccinated, many schools chose to stay closed. This year, when any adult who chooses to be vaccinated can be, it was looking like an easy decision to have schools be open. There was the risk that more children would catch COVID than caught it last year, and likely more than catch the flu in a typical year, but it also appeared that COVID was milder for many children than flu. If we were talking the original strain, then personally, as a teacher and as a parent, I would feel quite confident with school resuming in my community with our vaccination rates, masking habits and the protocols in place. (I would not feel nearly as confident in Cheyenne or Dallas.)

However, Delta variant complicates things. It is far more contagious than the original. It also appears that Delta may be riskier for kids than the original strain, leading to more cases of severe illness. So, there’s a lot of uncertainty right now. So, then I have to balance the coronavirus risk with all the other factors.

Benefits of In-Person Schooling

The American Academy of Pediatrics says: “Schools provide more than just academics to children and adolescents. In addition to reading, writing and math, students learn social and emotional skills, get exercise, and have access to mental health and other support services. For many families, schools are where kids get healthy meals, access to the internet, and other vital services… Families, schools, and communities can work together to help ensure students can safely return to and remain physically together in school this fall.”

The final factor for each parent to consider is what are the benefits of in-person schooling and whether they outweigh the possible COVID risks. What are your learning goals for your child. What does your child most need at this time to move forward in their learning and development?

Last year, my kid was quite successful at online schooling. As a child with ADHD and autism, he actually did better in many ways at home than he does in the classroom with his peers. Emotionally, he was more stable, and academically, he was solidly on track. But, I feel like he needs to get back in the classroom with peers. I have confidence about my child’s academic skills in any setting, but he needs to figure out social interaction, impulse control and emotional regulation in interaction with others. And he needs to do that this year – his last year in elementary school before hitting middle school.

Last year, I taught children ages 2 – 7 online. And they did far better than I could have imagined in engaging with the activities, learning the concepts, and even in connecting with the teachers and the other children. But I also feel like it’s time to get them back in the classroom with other children. In a typical year, my programs are play-based. The majority of class-time has children choosing their activities and having lots of one-on-one interactions with other kids and the teachers. We only spend a third of class time in a structured teacher-led format. We do some great stuff in that structured time, but it’s the play-based portions of the class where the most learning takes place. Our online classes were all structured teacher-led learning. (We, of course, encouraged parents to do lots of hands-on projects at home with their children. But that’s different than the free choice, child-led way we do it at class.)

I believe children are remarkably resilient. I believe adults are incredibly adaptable when pushed to be. I’m so proud of everything we did last year, and I think our kids are all pretty much on track despite all the learning disruption. And yet, I think the time has come to return to in-person learning. Yes, the COVID risks scare me. But for me personally – again, in my community with the vaccination rates, masking and protocols, I feel that returning to the class is the right answer.

Your choice for your family in your community with your local protocols may be different. I think, as always, every parent needs to decide what’s best for their child, taking into account the best information available.

Playdates

Playdates have always been a powerful way to help children build social skills. In 2021, as we’re coming out of COVID, playdates are especially useful for helping your child make up for lost time on social development. Getting together with other families for small group playdates can allow you to manage COVID risks better, and those one-on-one or small group playdates are the single best environment for your child to learn social skills! Learn how parents can help to plan and have successful playdates.

The Benefits of Playdates

Many parents focus on the importance of academic skills for children, but relationship skills and emotional literacy are perhaps even more important for your child’s long-term happiness. Your child will learn some social skills at preschool or school, and in extracurricular classes they attend. But even if those teachers are trying to prioritize social-emotional learning, they also have to stay somewhat on task for teaching the alphabet and numbers, or how to do a somersault, or how to play an instrument, or whatever other learning goals you have for your child in that program. The social interaction in a structured class just can’t replace the essential social skill building that happens in one-on-one or small-group free play with peers.

So, when planning your child’s activities, make sure to leave plenty of room for free, unstructured play with other children. Opportunities include: play-based preschool, lots of time on playgrounds in the park, nanny shares or small home-based daycares, time with cousins or neighbor kids, and playdates. When children are allowed to just play together, without too much intervention from parents, they learn:

  • Bids for Connection: How to invite another child to play, asking to join someone’s play, how to notice that someone else is inviting them and how to join in. (This is primarily non-verbal bids for younger children, like when they hand a toy to another child, or take a toy from another child.)
  • Sharing and taking turns, advocating for themselves, making space for other’s needs.
  • Collaboration: coming to an agreement on what game to play, and what the rules are.
  • Teamwork – working together on a common goal, and re-negotiating what the goal is when conflict arises.
  • Empathy and social cues: how can you tell if they other child is having fun, or when they’re not having fun, how you can be sensitive to that and adjust your play.
  • Emotional regulation: how to stay calm when things don’t go as you wished.

At a playdate, children can work on all these skills, as they engage in whatever activity captures their attention – playing with toys, building with blocks, pretend play, playing in the playground, or digging in the sandbox.

How to Set Up a Playdate

First, find the family. You may meet possible playdate partners at preschool or school, in a class, at the park, in your neighborhood, or you may find them on social media. For younger children, like under 3, they’ll play with almost anyone and parents typically stay for the playdate, so I look for parents that I feel like I’d like to spend an hour with. That usually works out, but if the children are radically different temperaments – a super rambunctious child and a calm and meek child – it may end up not being a good long-term match.

For older children, definitely 5 and up, you need to pick kids that your kid likes – someone with a similar temperament and similar interests. Keep your eye out for who your child is connecting with, volunteer in their classroom to observe for this, or ask their teacher.

Test the waters: start a conversation with the parent to feel out whether this seems possible, and if so, issue the invitation. I live in the Seattle area, where we have a cultural phenomenon known as “the Seattle Freeze” where many people find that it’s hard to develop connections and that they get rejections and they give up. I would encourage you not to take any rejections personally – they might just be really busy, or might be shy, or new to navigating parenting just like you are. Try to feel out – are the interested in the idea in general and they were just turning down the exact details you proposed, or are they really just not interested? If they’re not interested, just move on to another family.

Other parents may reach out to you – sometimes it’s obvious, like they say “want to do a playdate?” but often they may be just testing the water and make slow approaches – tune into those… if someone regularly chats with you at preschool drop-off time, maybe they’re working up toward an invitation. It’s helpful to learn about Gottman’s idea of “bids for connection” – if someone invites you to do something, and you just say “sorry, I’m busy on Wednesdays”, that can feel like a turn against. Instead, first turn toward, and then work out logistics. “I’d love to get the kids together! Wednesdays don’t work for me – what else could we make work?”

Planning a Playdate – Tips for Success

Lots of people advise that it works better for children to do one-on-one playdates first. So, if that works for you, great! If it feels easier for you socially to have a few families get together, that’s OK too – it’s just more people’s schedules to negotiate.

Keep playdates short! For toddlers, start with 45 minutes to an hour. For preschool, an hour is plenty. Frequent short playdates with pleasant endings are better for building friendships than infrequent, long, and cranky ones. Schedule for a time of day when both children are at their best, not when one is heading toward naptime grumpiness.

Choose a location mindfully. Many parents may feel more comfortable if your first get-togethers are in a public place rather than at one of your homes. But… also take your child’s temperament into account. Shy or anxious children may do best on their own familiar turf. If you choose a public place, be sure to choose somewhere that the children can play freely, since that’s the whole point! Choosing to meet at a coffee shop or restaurant can make it hard for the children to connect. Choose a place where there won’t be tons of other kids there – that can make it hard for your child to actually connect with the child you planned the playdate with.

Discuss expectations in advance with the other parent. First, be clear on whether the parent will drop off or stay – my assumption is that for children under 4, the parent stays and for children over 6, it’s usually drop-off, but there’s a gray area in between and other parents might have other assumptions. So, be clear! Talk about illness rules – if anyone has signs of illness you’ll re-schedule the playdate. (During COVID times, also be sure you have similar expectations about vaccination status, masking and indoors / outdoors.) Figure out what the ground rules are and how you’d like to handle discipline issues that arise. With casual acquaintances, I’ve tended to say “if the kids are having a conflict, we’ll step in and I’ll handle my child and you’ll handle yours.” So, if the discipline issues can be handled with simple positive discipline techniques like distraction or substitution, I’ll do that, but if more is needed, I leave that to the other parent.

But I’ve also had other families where we’ve agreed that we’re on “sibling and cousin rules” together – which means we’re accepting the fact that our kids might squabble and we’ll try to let them work it out on their own so they get that practice with problem-solving and conflict resolution. But that if it hits the point where an adult intervenes, we trust any of the adults to step in and handle it.

Activities for Playdates

Plan playdate activities that are engaging, are collaborative (like building a fort or playing with blocks), not competitive. If there are especially cool toys, try to have two of them so the children don’t have to fight over them. It can help to have toys with many pieces (Lego) rather than single items (trikes). If your child has a hard time sharing their possessions, you could put away their most treasured toys on the day of the playdate to minimize conflict, or you may be better off having the playdate elsewhere on neutral territory.

Have an activity idea so that if the children aren’t doing well, you have a new distraction to try: “hey – who wants to blow bubbles!” or “shall we make cookies?”

Snacks? Snacks can be a great option for shifting the mood – if kids are squabbling over a toy, sitting down for a snack together can help. But make sure you talked with the other parent in advance about what the snack plan was, and what kind of snacks work for their kid and what doesn’t (e.g. no sugar, or avoid allergens.)

Plan an ending. It’s good to think about how you’ll signal that playtime is coming to an end. Maybe that’s with a snack, or a story, or maybe just a heads up that “we’ve only got five more minutes together – what do you want to be sure to do before we’re done?

For the first few playdates, expect to be very hands-on, helping the children learn how to play with each other. As they become more independent, you can fade back. If your child is autistic or has issues with sensory processing, you may need to remain close by for longer. (I still have to keep an eye on 10 year old who is autistic, and can escalate quickly.)

What if it’s not going well?

If they start to have a conflict, don’t feel like you have to intervene the moment it begins. Small disagreements often work themselves out, and children learn through the process. So, try sitting back and seeing what happens. Sometimes, things will start to go south, and they may need help negotiating a compromise. Rather than telling them they have to share, it may be more helpful to say let’s take turns – you can have it for one more minute, then it’s their turn.

If the children are heading toward hitting or biting, step in immediately. State firmly what it not OK, and tell them what to do instead.

It may help you to think in a flow chart mode, like this discipline flow chart. You’ve tried to prevent problems with good planning. If something starts, but it’s not a big deal – pick your battle and sit this one out, or tell them what TO DO. If it starts escalating, I do an “if/then” – “if you keep fighting over the toy, then I’ll have to put it away for today. So, let’s say that A gets it for two minutes then it will be B’s turn. B, what would you like to do while A takes their turn?” Praise good interaction as soon as you see it.

When it comes to playdates with small children, it helps to go in with low expectations, and celebrate success however big or small it is. If the first playdate fails – at least you tried! And it doesn’t mean every playdate with that child will fail – we all just have rough days sometimes. So, just think “well, they’re learning new skills and they got to practice today some things that don’t work well. That’s a learning opportunity.” And you know what skills you can work on at home to help give them a better chance of success next time.

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