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When play dates go bad

You’re excited. Your son has finally scored a play date with Billy, a boy in his class he can’t stop talking about. But when the kids get together, little Billy turns out to be a bully and the play date is filled with more tears than fun.

What to do when a play date turns ugly
Kids arguing

When a play date goes bad, how do you handle it?

Can the play date be saved?

Just because your child and Billy aren’t getting along, doesn’t necessarily mean the play date has to be ended immediately. Father of five, Lincoln Hoppe, suggests, “Billy’s bullying is a behavior not a personality defect. And behaviors can be modified. It is likely that a more structured activity and some loving redirection of Billy’s behavior will solve the problem. After all, your child likes Billy when they are at school so creating a more school-like play date may help. Do a craft. Play a board game. Build something together.”

Meryl Neiman, mom and co-founder and CEO of Playdate Planet, says, “The mom should take little Billy and her son aside and tell them that it does not appear that the two of them are getting along. Explain that play dates are for playing and having fun, not for arguments and tears, and if they can’t find a way to have fun together then you will have to call Billy’s mom and cut the play date short (I’ve never actually had to make this call).”

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When it’s obvious the play date is over

If it’s obvious things will only go from bad to worse if you don’t end the play date, Dr. Susan Bartell suggests taking the following steps:

  • Call the child’s mom to come pick up her child. Explain that the kids aren’t doing well together.
  • Since most parents are very defensive about their child’s behavior, don’t accuse Billy of being a bully. Just let it go.
  • If your child is upset, explain why Billy isn’t a good friend for him. It’s very important for kids to learn not to tolerate bullying just because they want to be in someone’s social circle.

What your child can learn from this

Dr. Fran Walsh says this is a perfect opportunity to talk with your child about what it takes to be a good friend and how to choose our friends. “Little Billy turned out to be a bully. A good friend treats you kindly, shares, takes turns, talks nicely and behaves toward you the way he wants to be treated. A good friend is not hot-and-cold. He is nice all the time. This is how we learn to feel safe and trust our friends. Teach your own child that he deserves a whole slice of pie… not just crumbs the way Billy has offered.”

Could the bad date have been avoided?

Danny Nickell, founder of and father of six says, “It is a good idea prior to hosting a play date to have already spent time with the other family, and children, know their behaviors, and make decisions before making the invitations so that a “play date gone bad” can be about just having a bad day, and not about a child not being raised and taught the same standards that we as parents strive to teach our children.”

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More about your child’s friendships

Teaching kids how to make friends at school
How to help preschoolers make friends
When you dislike your kid’s friends

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