It’s been over a year since we retreated into our homes “for a couple of weeks”, to wait for the virus to pass. Weeks led to months, the new year rolled around… and we’re only now thinking of re-entering the world. So, as parents, how do we reintroduce play dates for our kids?
First order of business is to take stock of the current conditions and guidance in your area. Be mindful that just because restrictions might have lifted, there may be reasons why others are reticent about getting together. Proceed with sensitivity and respect.
Ask your child if they would like to meet up with friends. Try not to bring in your own anxieties but listen. They may well be excited to get out again, or they may be nervous. Let them know that what they’re feeling is ok, and that you’ll be there with them.
Start with a virtual intro, to (re)build familiarity with friends. Encourage sharing of masks over Zoom, so they can recognize buddies when they meet up in person. My daughter loves to show-off her new kitty look.
[Related: Nurturing your child's mental health in the pandemic's aftermath]
Most children are practiced at wearing their masks now they’re back at school (at least part of the time), but they can be reluctant to keep them on. We’ve found jersey ones to be soft and tolerable, while disposable ones are apparently “stink.” A practice run can be helpful.
Pick an outdoor venue, so you can relax a little. Playgrounds are obviously fun, but fraught with challenges; all those touchable surfaces and potential crowds. Try picking somewhere a little less obvious and limit the stress.
Expecting children to pick up where they left off in March 2020 is unrealistic. Making friends is an art that children learn as they grow. Understand that they’re out of practice and may need you to facilitate. Bringing along a game — a soccer ball or drone — can jump-start activities.
Having a time limit sets expectations, prevents boredom, and makes it easy to leave without awkwardness. Keep first play dates short and set your kids up for success. You can build up to longer later.
Have your child send a note or text a picture. I like the Photoshop Express app since I can use an image snapped while out, and the kids can have fun personalizing with stickers. This helps pave the way for an ongoing friendship.
Ask your child if they enjoyed themselves. What did they like best? What was challenging? Then see what you can address. Perhaps another time of day would work better? Decide together what actionable things you can do to make the next occasion fun for all.
Whether the play date was successful or not, don’t leave it too long before organizing another. If your little one is timid, or needs to enhance their play skills, then it’s important to get out there again. If necessary, find an activity that involves you too, and ease youngsters into the new social scene.
It can be daunting for any of us to start meeting up again in-person. We’re following the numbers and reading the reports, feeling optimistic one minute and doubtful the next...then layer on some rusty social skills and think how it feels to be a child. By talking and doing some prep work, then following some simple steps, this can be a more successful experience for our kids, and even an enjoyable experience for us grown-ups, too.