Providing their charges with frequent opportunities to socialize with other children is a high priority for most professional nannies. Whether it’s visiting parks and playgrounds or attending library story hour, professional nannies make a conscious effort to provide rich social experiences for the children in their care.
One of the most common social experiences that nannies introduce their charges to is playdates. By getting together with other parents or caregivers and children of similar ages, the children learn to master social skills, like sharing, interacting with peers and problem solving. But hosting a successful playdate takes a little planning and preparation.
These 5 playtime principles can help nannies plan a practically perfect playdate every time.
1. Schedule the playdate carefully. When planning a playdate, it’s essential to schedule it during a child’s peak time, which is typically after a morning nap and snack for young children. This is because well-rested and well-fed children naturally make better playmates. When these two basic needs are met, children are able to focus their energy on playtime and invest their internal resources in emotionally managing the social experience. Since young children physically and emotionally wear out easily, playdates should be limited to no longer than two hours.
2. Provide age-appropriate activities. Having age-appropriate activities available during the playdate will reduce frustration and provide opportunities for both parallel and interactive play. Having a playdate theme, like “the farm,” and choosing books, crafts, toys, and music that reflect the theme can ensure that there are a variety of related activities to participate in. Toys like Little People, blocks, and other items that encourage several children to play work best for playdates.
3. Have a snack ready. As soon as blood sugar levels sink, bad behavior shortly follows. Having a healthy snack, like fresh fruit and string cheese, on standby can assure that you are prepared if your charges or guests become hungry. Snack time can also provide for a much needed break from activity, should the playdate turn chaotic.
4. Have house rules. One of the best ways to set the children up for success is to clearly communicate the house rules. The house rules are basic rules that are typically universally accepted by all parents. “We use our kind words and hands” could be included in the house rules for the younger set. For young children who can’t yet understand or always follow the rules, blocking off areas that aren’t for play, removing items that are breakable or dangerous, and distracting children before trouble occurs can help set the children up for success. For older children who may play a bit more unsupervised, keeping doors open, staying off of the computer, and not using swear words could be appropriate house rules.
5. Encourage the kids to work it out. Playdates provide an opportunity for children to practice playing with others, getting along, and resolving conflict. When children are having trouble sharing, try to avoid intervening, unless someone is at risk for getting hurt. If you have to intervene, modeling problem solving by helping each child take turns communicating their feelings can be effective in helping young children learn how to solve problems. For younger children, distraction or removing a trouble causing toy can be most effective.
Often times, nannies wonder if it is appropriate to discipline someone else’s child. If the child is in your care during a playdate, without the parent or caregiver present, disciplining the child is typically appropriate. Asking the parent or caregiver what techniques they use prior to caring for the child can ensure that you follow the parents or caregivers wishes when it comes to discipline. When in doubt, redirection and offering general correction to all children, like “Let’s remember, we must share the toys” can be effective. Asking the offending child to help you solve the problem, for example, “Ben, can you show me how to share the truck” can also work well.
If the caregiver or parent is present, it’s always best to allow them to discipline the child. If the parent seems unresponsive to bad behavior, however, asking for the child’s cooperation (Sara, could you move away from the slide so Lyla doesn’t hurt you coming down) can be effective. If that fails, asking the parent or caregiver directly to intervene should curb the behavior.
Learning to get along with others is a key life skill. Nannies can help children develop the social skills necessary to play with others well by regularly hosting playdates.