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5 Play Date Problem Solvers

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At our recent moms’ get together, my friend Christie asked for our advice on an issue. A mom from school repeatedly asks her 11-year-old son over to play with her son, but Christie’s child just doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t dislike the other boy, but they don’t have that much in common. Up until now, she’s been forcing her child to accept the invitations to avoid hurting the family’s feelings.

They offer a chance to develop social skills, make friends, and just have fun! But not all play dates are created equal. Sometimes there are factors like differing personalities and interests among the children, or conflicting parenting styles that make a play date more problematic than helpful. But how do you politely decline an invitation for your child to…play? Because they’ll never believe your 7-year-old is booked up indefinitely. That’s just one of the 5 Play Date Kid Problems we’ll help you solve.

1. Significant differences in parenting styles or values.

No matter how friendly another family is, if they don’t share your core values and basic parenting philosophy, sending your child into their home without being present yourself to handle problems is a bad idea. If you can’t bear to refuse an invitation outright, or if you see the situation as an opportunity to positively influence another mom, you could counter her offer with an alternative. Suggest meeting up at a neutral location like the park to visit while the kids play, or invite them into your home where you can more easily control things like entertainment options, etc.

2. Behavioral challenges with the other child.

Sometimes other children are just poorly behaved. It’s not fair to subject your child to a kid who doesn’t play nicely and fairly on a repetitive basis. Unfortunately, you only have two options here: be honest with the other mom about the problem, and ask for her help in correcting it, or just decline the invitation as politely as possible. You might be generous enough to describe it as a situation where they just don’t play well together, and you’re not even sure who’s at fault, but for whatever reason—it’s just not a good idea. (Sue me. I’m Southern. We sugar-coat things, y’all.)

3. A total lack of common interests.

Some truly nice kids just don’t have anything in common. If your sports nut has to spend all afternoon with a kid who only wants to do indoor things, he’ll be miserable, and vice versa. You might ask the other mom to help figure out an activity they’d both enjoy. If neither of you can come up with the answer, it’s fine to say, “They’re just into different things—and that’s okay.”

4. They’re too old to have mom-engineered play dates.

At some point, your child will want to pick their own friends. It’s a natural phase of their growing social maturity. When this happens, it’s awkward and embarrassing for you or another mom to try to force friendship between your kids. If another mom hasn’t picked up on this, you might try to tell her what you’re observing in your own child—and what you read in this article—as a not-so-personal way of saying it really needs to be the kids’ idea at this age.

5. Your child really doesn’t want to go.

Even younger kids can sometimes see things we miss. (Read iMOM Director Susan Merrill’s blog confessional on this topic.) If your child has a real aversion to playing with another, talk to him about it to find out why. If you feel like he needs to give the other child a chance, let them play only with your full supervision so that you can diagnose what’s going on. But at the end of the day, some people—even in kid world—weren’t meant to be close friends. Yes, you should make sure your child is always kind and polite to everyone, but they shouldn’t be forced to spend lots of one-on-one time with someone whose company they don’t enjoy.

Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.


What’s your favorite thing to do when you have a friend over to play?

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