Take breaks from play dates

While children benefit from playing with each other, they also need time to be on their own.
While children benefit from playing with each other, they also need time to be on their own.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Some kids are social butterflies who tire out their parents with requests for play dates with friends.

So how can parents get them to spread their wings in another area and learn how to entertain themselves?

This dynamic is even harder when the parent is more introverted than the child. Introverted parents can often feel exhausted by their own children. So when another child and her needs are added to the mix, the parent can feel overwhelmed and not positive about the outing.

Even if you are not introverted, there are other reasons a child should not have constant play dates.

First, children benefit from playing with others, but there comes a point where a lack of leadership and wisdom can creep in. This means whichever child has the stronger personality (and one always wins out) will unconsciously seek to dominate the other.

This is when play can turn bossy and controlling rather than collaborative and fun.

The second reason you should not give in to every play-date request is that an eight-year-old is not in charge of the family. Whether it is because of travel time, cost or simply being sick of dragging other children around, the parent sets the boundaries, not the child.

By telling your child, "No, we are not bringing Janet to the park with us today", without apology or wavering, you are teaching her to deal with a boundary.

Of course, parents want their children to have fun, but they create a nightmare when they do not enforce simple and clear rules.

If your daughter is pushing your boundary with begging, pushing or throwing fits, she is (unconsciously) trying to wear you down.

Do not give in.

The third reason your child does not need play dates is that boredom is the window to creativity, and whenever your daughter has someone with her, her mind does not have a break to wander.

Between school and technology, children have an ever-growing need to simply "be", but this is difficult when the child is both extroverted and conditioned to having someone with her at all times.

The whining and tantrums for play dates and entertainment can wear down even the most patient parent.

The reason your child cannot entertain herself is that she is being constantly entertained, either through play dates or even through activities with just the two of you.

So what are you supposed to do? Not allow any more play dates?

Of course not.

Parents want to strike a balance between their child enjoying growing friendships and finding her own creativity.

Here are a couple of ideas:

Stop trying to impress her with outings. You do not have to go to a museum or fancy garden every time you take her somewhere. Whether you bring her friend, pare down the outings to activities around your community, neighbourhood or backyard.

Keep activities simple (kicking footballs, baking, bike riding) and give her time to experience her own creativity. The burden of making sure your child loves every structured experience is unfair to both of you.

Call a meeting with your kid and make a plan. There are weekends and after-school time and, between you and your child, decide what makes sense.

Your child may not love that she cannot invite her pal to every outing, but having a meeting gives her a voice - a way to offer her opinions and desires in a way that is respected and heard by you.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 09, 2018, with the headline 'Take breaks from play dates'. Print Edition | Subscribe