Playdates Gone Bad

Who hasn’t experienced a playdate they thought would never end? Maybe your son’s pal from school has arrived for the afternoon and views your home as a new jungle gym to be conquered. Or your daughter’s little friend has no problem backtalking and challenging any comment you make (a trait your daughter seems to be admiring.) Sometimes the little offender has an impressive range of profanity worked into their dialogue. The worst visits however, seem to end in actual casualties, like bruises and stitches.

Many parents have experienced the playdate gone terribly awry before. Whether you are the one in charge or the one whose child came home from the fray, it can be easy to overreact, point fingers and increase the intensity of the situation. But there are better ways to handle these types of incidents. Dr. David T. Smith, the Senior Director of Psychology at LifeWay Counseling Centers, has some tips on how to be ready for the next time you have to handle one of these sticky situations.

Don’t overreact

It can be difficult to keep your emotions in check when a child you’re hosting misbehaves during a playdate – or if you feel your child has been treated poorly at someone else’s house. Dr. Smith says parents can naturally feel upset, even appalled, and kick in with a sense of wanting to protect their child. It’s important however, to remain calm and not get emotionally charged in a situation before hearing the whole story.

Really listen

Instead, the first thing parents should do is listen. “I think it’s good to get all the facts, because sometimes you can quickly make the assumption that your child would not have had a role in whatever happened. But gathering a little bit of information makes you a wise parent,” advises Smith. Kids often fabricate or exaggerate events, so it’s important to get every side of the story from those who were involved. Reserve judgment for as long as possible until you can figure out the truest version of events.

Redirect back to better behavior

After listening to everyone involved and figuring out what really happened, take the opportunity to enforce your rules and values with your own kids and explain to your guest about how things are done differently in your home. If the problem was inappropriate language or mean behavior from your young visitor, tell them that your family doesn’t say those words or treat people that way. Explain that if they are going to come to your house again, they will have to respect your rules.

Think carefully about talking to the other parent

I think deciding when to tell the other child’s parents needs some discernment,” says Dr. Smith. Ask yourself how important this transgression really was. If a child misbehaved at your house, is it something to an extent that his parent would need to be aware of it? If your child had a bad experience at someone else’s home, is it small enough for you to just let go? Consider carefully the possible aftermath of deciding to make an issue of whatever happened.

Be up front

If you would like to have future playdates with this child, or a valuable friendship with the other parent may be jeopardized, you’ll have to bring the issue up tactfully. “You don’t just want to drop it. As hard as it is, be honest and just share with them any issues you may have had,” says Dr. Smith.

Remember that playdates gone bad can actually provide an opportunity for your children to learn about another type of family, their values and their situation. All of this information provides teachable moments to pass on to your own kids – who will hopefully be invited to many playdates of their own.

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