5 Tips for a Successful Play Date


Two women and their children having a play date.Play dates can be a source of anxiety and worry for parents of learners who encounter social barriers that prevent them from being socially successful with peers. However, setting up a play date is extremely important because repeated social exposure and practice is the only way your learner can gain important skills to be socially successful.

Practice opportunities are a vital addition to any facilitated support learners already receive. So regardless of where your learner is, try to connect with other parents and set up times for the kids to get together. While doing so, remember the following tips and strategies to help your child maximize their social success. 

1. Identify a neutral location. 

This is the key to a successful play date. Play dates can also take place over a structured community activity, such as an ice cream outing followed by some time at the park

2. Keep the play date short.

The goal is to make it successful, so if you know your child fatigues after an hour, keep the play date to 45 minutes! You want to make sure that your child ends their play date on a good note so that they can associate it with a positive experience. You can always lengthen the duration of the play date over time. 

3. Keep the play date structured.

If your child has difficulty with too many choices or a lack of structure, create a play date plan. Select things your child likes and preview the plan with them. Role-play the plan and any transitions ahead of the play date. Select toys and activities that allow you to give each child their separate toys and materials within the same play theme, e.g., everyone gets the same craft materials. This minimizes the possibility of conflict your child may not yet have the skills to handle. 

4. Start with a Dyad.

Play dates should always start small because the more peers you add into the mix, the more complex and stressful the social dynamics can become. Start with a dyad. Then slowly work on increasing the amount of successful duration of play dates, and when you feel like a dyad is easy, consider adding another peer to the mix. 

5. End on a good note, even if doing so means ending early.

Be aware of your child’s triggers. If you notice that your child’s anxiety or stress levels are going up ahead of when you anticipated the play date to go to, end on a good note and set up another time to meet in the future, slowly extending the length of time of future play dates. 

play spaceJustyna Balzar is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with a master’s degree in education. A co-founder of The Hangout Spot located in Norwalk, CT, she has over 15 years of experience with learners of varying profiles, between the ages of 3 and 18, across multiple settings.


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