Playdates Gone Bad

“My children once came home from a play date with haircuts they had given each other.”

This comment, given by a local mom in response to a recent Dayton Parent Facebook question asking parents to post their playdate horror stories, illustrates the conundrum with sending your child off to someone else’s house. You never quite know what might happen there.

Many parents have experienced the playdate gone terribly awry. Whether you are the one in charge or the one whose children come home with new hairdos, it can be easy to panic, point fingers and even ruin potentially good friendships. There are better ways to handle these types of incidences. Dr. Bruce Kline, a clinical psychologist in Dayton who has worked with children and families for over 35 years, has some tips on how to be ready for the next time you have to handle one of these sticky situations.

Don’t overreact 

It can be difficult to keep your surprise/shock/horror in check when you first learn about something that happened unexpectedly during a playdate. Keep calm and carry on. “Try to set your own emotions aside as the adult and focus on the child first,” advises Dr. Kline. Oftentimes, parents can get too emotionally charged about a situation before they hear all the details.

Really listen

Instead, the first thing parents should do is get the whole story. “A parent’s first line of defense should be to listen without judging. That is the way to get good answers or ideas about what the scope of the situation may have been,” explains Kline. Kids often fabricate or exaggerate events, so it’s important to get every side of the story from those who were involved. Reserve judgment for as long as possible until you can figure out the truest version of events.

Redirect to better behavior

After listening to everyone involved and figuring out what really happened, take the opportunity to enforce your rules and values with your own kids and explain to your guest about how things are done differently in your home. If the problem was inappropriate language or mean behavior from your young guest, tell them that your family doesn’t say those words or treat people that way. Explain that if they are going to come to your house again, they will have to respect your rules.

Think carefully about talking to the other parent

Dr. Kline believes that not all situations require a discussion with the other parent. Ask yourself how important this transgression really was. If a child misbehaved at your house, is it something to an extent that his parent would need to be aware of it? If your child had a bad experience at someone else’s home, is it small enough for you to just let go? Consider carefully the possible aftermath of deciding to make an issue of whatever happened.

Talk in person

“If you do decide it’s something that needs to be brought to the other parent’s attention, try to set up a face-to-face meeting,” encourages Kline. If you can avoid it, don’t send a text or talk on the phone. By chatting in person, you can gauge the other parent’s reaction, body language and facial expressions to decide whether this was a onetime occurrence or if this is a friendship you want to terminate.

If you would like to have future playdates with this child, or a valuable friendship with the other parent may be jeopardized, you’ll have to bring the issue up tactfully – as hard as that might be.

No matter what happens, Dr. Kline encourages parents to view playdates gone bad as an opportunity to learn about another type of family, their values and their situation. All of this information provides teachable moments to pass on to your own kids – who will hopefully be invited again and again to many playdates.

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