When playdates go bad

When fights break out, parents are stuck in a tricky situation.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Playdates, just like real dates, can be social minefields. Choose the wrong playmate for your preschooler and you might encounter lying, cheating, gossip and teasing — and that’s just from the parents. But what if the relationship isn’t working between the two tykes? One kid might be pushy while the other is over-sensitive, they could be too competitive, or simply incompatible.

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Know when to call it quits
After about six months of weekly playdates with a kindergarten classmate, Dina Kahn’s* daughter Lori starting complaining that her friend was being too bossy, and she didn’t want to play with her anymore. “We tried a few more times, and then we said let’s take a break,” says Kahn. because she knew the other family well, she was upfront about the situation with the friend’s mother. “It wasn’t news to her. She knew her daughter was bossy,” says Kahn. “She thanked me for coming to her directly, and I’m still friends with her a year later.” But as mom Cheantelle Jackson discovered, some parents may not react well to the direct approach. One of her daughter’s preschool friends was very aggressive, and wouldn’t stop hitting and scratching. “I tried talking to her mom about it, but she got very upset and told me that my girl must have deserved it,” says Jackson, who decided to end the friendship.

Your house, your rules
While you can’t call the shots at someone else’s house, you can be clear about the expectations on your own turf — so try to host the playdates whenever possible. If, for example, a young guest likes to roughhouse, or play tag indoors — a no-no for you because it riles up your normally well-behaved child — explain the rules to him, suggests parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley. “Tell him that here, in your house, you have certain rules, and the child is welcome to play here as long as he follows them,” she explains in her book Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Children. Keep in mind that if this behaviour is acceptable at his house, he may need a few repetitions to absorb it. “The good news is that children are remarkably resilient; they can, and do, learn rules for different situations in record time,” writes Pantley.

It’s not you, it’s me
Sometimes when it comes to breakups, it’s best to tread lightly, says Nancy Kosik, founder of the Montreal-based Nancy Kosik Academy of International Protocol and Etiquette. “In this case, I would not recommend total honesty,” she says. “Instead, try to put the onus on your own child. So, for instance, you could say, ‘I don’t think my child is ready for this kind of relationship yet.’”

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*Name has been changed

A version of this article appeared in our August 2012 issue under the headline “Playing fair,” pp. 52.

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