My daughter Sabrina recently had a play date with a toddler friend named Raina.* As we were leaving Raina’s home, she bit Sabrina’s upper arm and yanked her hair. It happened so fast, and I was caught off-guard.
As Sabrina sobbed, the mom apologized, and I let it go–kids are kids! (Hey, I wasn’t a perfect little angel–just ask my sister.) However, at their next play date, Raina pulled Sabrina’s hair again, hard. The mom blushed, but my first thought–I admit–was, “Keep your kid away from mine.” Since then, Raina’s mom has been asking for another play date and I’m not sure how to handle the situation. So, I asked California-based clinical psychologist Dr. Hillary Goldsher for some advice on what to do when faced with an awkward play date scenario. She shares her advice below.
Acknowledge what happened
“You may want to say something such as, ‘There were some boundary issues crossed last time the girls were together. Why don’t we put our heads together and figure out an activity they can both enjoy and keep them entertained?” suggests Goldscher. This way, you aren’t blaming the other parent for their child’s actions. “No one is shaming the other this way,” says Goldsher.
Realize it could be YOUR child
It’s hard to see your child physically hurt by another kid, but try not to let it crush you. “Many parents face situations where a play date dynamic just isn’t working. We all know how sensitive we can be as parents, and, on the reverse side, many parents would want to know if their child hurt another child,” says Goldsher. “Realize the shoe could be on the other foot. You can try saying something to the other parent (especially if they’re feeling sensitive or embarrassed about their child’s actions) such as, ‘Look, next week it could be my kid who bites or shoves. In the meantime, together, let’s figure out ways Sabrina and Raina can play nicely together.” Consider a future play date at an amusement park or local beach where the kids are too busy having fun in a new environment to hurt another child.
Pick and choose your battles
Goldsher likes the expression, “Take off your velcro suit,” which means pick and choose your battles when it comes to parenting; we’re all in the same boat as advocates for our children, and the less stress we have, the better. If anything, use what happened as a learning experience. Show your children ways to play gently with other children so they understand teamwork and how to treat friends. “See how certain situations play out and intervene when appropriate. You can’t pick every battle,” says Goldsher. “The biting situation could be a one time thing and never happens again.” Kids will absolutely be kids, but assess each situation. Bottom line? If your child strongly doesn’t enjoy playing with another child, or something doesn’t feel right, don’t arrange another play date. Go with your gut.