How to Deal with Play Dates Gone Wrong

How to Deal with Playdates Gone Wrong

19 June 2022 • Words by Elle Walsh 3 mins

Sometimes when you have your child’s friend over, things can go wrong. From a toddler biting and struggling to share, to kids shouting and slamming doors. Playdates that have gone wrong are no fun but they happen a lot. I suppose you wonder about the right way to manage them as adults. Well,  am going to take two angles here. First, how to address the situation at the moment. And secondly, how to explain the situation to the other parent.

How to Deal with Playdates Gone Wrong:

Addressing the ‘gone wrong’

You can hear heated voices and the loud sounds of crashing and banging. You observe and listen to how they are handling the situation themselves. If they need your intervention, first, empower the children for attempting to resolve their problem. Narrate what you see and wonder about the best ways of managing it.

Try not to dwell on the problem (not sharing etc), unless it is necessary to address. Violent and/or bullying-type behavior is not okay. Validate and empathize with any feeling that comes up for both children. Perhaps the play needs re-directing. Wonder with them what games and toys they can play with that they both can enjoy. Perhaps you can sense big feelings in your child/both children and they need some space to play independently for a little while. Or they need to take a breather and spend some time in another room. Once calmer, see if together they can figure out something they can enjoy together. Perhaps this requires more input from you. We can make most things fun for them with a bit of creativity and imagination. Supervise the next play. Comment on the more positive behavior you notice and encourage their friendship skills.

Addressing the parent – or not

Now, this is a tricky one. Is it necessary to always comment on the struggles in the play date? You don’t want to damage their friendship or yours with the parent. However, isn’t it a requirement to let the other parent know what happens in their absence? I suppose the answer may lie within the quality and closeness of your friendship with them. As a parent myself, I assume this other parent is my friend and my natural instinct would be to discuss it with them (let’s face it, probably over a glass of wine).

Explaining the approach I took and how it went and then collaboratively coming up with strategies for us both to use in the future. But on the other hand, I had managed the problem well and both children have walked away from the playdate, maybe having gained some relationship skills or strength in their friendship or at the very least, had fun. Would it be wrong of me to hash out the issues with the parent for them to just unearth it all again with the child at home? Perhaps it’s down to the gravity of what actually went wrong?

As a psychotherapist, my tendency would be to tread gently and consider the outcome and goals carefully. I have supported many children and families whereby the parents become so defensive and cruel when it comes to discussion about their child and behavior. It doesn’t matter how carefully, supportively or empathetically you open a discussion about their child, some parents take it as an attack on their parenting and their walls go up.

With all of this in mind, I’d advise considering the benefit of hashing out every incident and thinking carefully about your motive. Have these conversations only if, in the long run, it will make things more difficult if you didn’t. And when you feel you need to address it with the parent, perhaps take the approach of being neutral, with problem-solving at the core.

Take-Home Messages:

Elle Walsh