Interview with Fiona Zecca, Early Childhood Development and Behavioral Specialist
So, yesterday we talked about setting up the initial playdate. Can you elaborate on what we should look for in choosing a potential playdate partner?
Start by picking a child your child is interested in. Your ultimate goal is to have your child interact with another child, so pick someone who motivates your child. If you are unsure of this and your child is in a school or child care program, ask his/her teachers. If your child hasn't had many opportunities to form interest in another child or simply is not interested in other children, pick a child that is easygoing and willing to go on a playdate. Pick someone that you know is a good match for your child's temperament and sensory system - someone who will not overwhelm them. If your child is typically the leader, pick someone who can follow. Note that some kids that do not seem like they would be a good match sometimes bring out the most in each other. Probably it is most ideal to pick someone in your child's same age range.
What should be the format for the playdate? Where should you do it and for how long?
To start with I would have the playdate at your house, for no more than an hour, ideally once a week. Your child is going to be comfortable at his/her own home and this allows them to feel in control and possibly have the opportunity to show the other child some toys/activities that interest him/her. This is also beneficial for the partner because kids typically love going to someone else's house to check out their toys. Also, a park is the worst place to have a playdate because the children are not natually motivated to stay togetehr and play the same activity. You often will find one child on the swings, while the other child is going down the slide.
How do you choose the right activity?
I recommend choosing an interactive, high-interest activity that you will lead with the two children, such as baking/decorating cookies. If possible, playfully guide the partner to involve your child by transferring any directive you might give to your child on to the partner to keep your child an active participant. For example, you might ask the play partner to be in charge of the M&Ms by having him ask your child how many he/she wants for each cookie and what colors. This way they are having constant interactions. Eventually you will fade out as the playdates progress and the children are able to interact without so much support. I would recommend doing the same high-interest activity each week to give your child the opportunity to practice his/her role and because most children love predictability and repetition. Change the activity when it is clear they are bored and want a change. Other ideas might be: putting together a ginger bread house or painting a large cardboard box to make a train they can ride in together or an interactive structured game such as "Don't Break the Ice" or rocket stomper or large bubble wands or balloon pumps, etc. What you will choose will depend on your child's interests. Just make sure it is motivating to both children, and, naturally interactive.
So how do you tell if it's not working?
Give the partners at least four consistent times before giving up. Look for small amounts of progress. Certainly you should reevaluate if either child is having a horrible time, but be sure to not give up easily. Even if your child doesn't seem to be getting anything out of it, he/she may be getting more than you think. You may want to take some photos of the playdate in progress and post them on your refrigerator so your child can look at them during the rest of the week and anticipate the next playdate. If you find you just can't bear leading the playdates, it is just not your thing or perhaps you are too emotionally involved, see if you can get someone else to do it, an aunt, your child's dad, a tutor, a social coach, perhaps an aide from your child's school who wants to earn some extra money.
If you would like to ask Fiona a question, leave a comment here or contact her directly at fiona [at] fionazecca [dot] com. You can also check out her Sensory Social Playgroups website here.