School’s out! It’s time for sunshine, relaxation, and play dates….but what do you do if play dates are more stressful than school? While summer can be a welcome break from routine, it can also be an intimidating amount of unstructured time, especially for kids with autism, social anxiety, or ADHD. If this describes your child, read below for tips on making play dates an enjoyable social experience.
- Set a time frame. If your child has difficulty with unstructured time or is really not looking forward to this, don’t plan on a whole afternoon. Half an hour might be more than enough time, and it might make your child feel more at ease knowing they only have to try this for so long. As play dates become more enticing you can set them for longer.
- Plan activities. Help your child think beforehand about what their play date likes to do. Consider the play date’s interests and personality before picking activities. If your play date likes to be active, go to the park or jump on the trampoline. If your play date doesn’t like being outside, choose a board game or grab the Legos. Have a couple options in mind in case one doesn’t work out.
- Video games might be the answer. If play dates are super intimidating or unappealing, playing Minecraft with another kid in the same room might be the first step. You can also set a time frame for how long they can play before they need to go outside.
Super Tip: keep the clock, or even a timer, in the room so they can check in on how long they can play. I also suggest giving them a halfway and five-minute warning to ease the transition.
- Think through possible scenarios. Based on the activities you chose together, brainstorm some basic expectations. For example, when playing a board game, your child will need to wait his/her turn, congratulate the play date when they have a lucky turn, and say, “Good game,” at the end. If things don’t go your child’s way, remind them of tools they can use to calm down and/or give them a mantra to say to themselves such as “It’s not about who wins, it’s about having fun.”
Super Tip: ask your child to do the brainstorming as much as possible instead of telling him/her the expectations. Ask leading questions like, “What do you think you should do if you get really angry?” and give choices if they have no idea.
- Be available. It’s okay for you and the other parent to be around. The four of you can play the first round of Candy Land together, ensuring that the kids know the rules and routine, and then find something you need to do in another room. As time goes on you can be less and less involved.
- Compliment and reward. If you observe your child making positive choices, give him/her specific compliments. Also, playing with another child will likely not be an intrinsic reward on its own. Your child might need extrinsic rewards to be motivated to repeat the experience. If so, plan a special reward ahead of time and tell your child how you will determine whether the child earns the reward. It might just be surviving the experience, it might be playing for a certain length of time, or it might be not getting upset when things don’t go his/her way.
You know your child best, and I wish you the best of luck as you help guide their social skills and motivate them to seek out meaningful relationships. If you’re interested in more information or looking for social language services, please call me, Danielle Nichols, at (720) 937-3007 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.