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Play-dates and Disappointment


Question:


My daughter is 4.5 y old and very social.  She attends a play based pre-school for almost 3 hours M-F. Almost everyday leaving school she is in tears if we do not have a play date scheduled.  I try to keep things simple though we do live in NYC.  She attends an after school art class that I organized for the class on Mondays. 15 of her class mates attend.  Other than that we typically have 1 or 2 play-dates a week but occurring on any random day of the week.  She also has dance lessons on Sat. and Sunday school on Sunday.

What is your advice on what is a reasonable number of play-dates per week? And, how to curb the severe disappointment often tantrum if we do not have a
play-date?

I am thinking of having Tuesdays and Thursdays be play-date days and having set Mommy and me fun days so she knows what to expect.  However, I am a fairly spontaneous person.

Look forward to your advice.

Thank you~ Sharon

Answer:


Dear Sharon,

What an exciting life you and your daughter have.  You have provided many opportunities for socialization and activities that will stimulate her mind and her ability to get along with others.  I do not believe this is about how many play dates to have.  She has plenty.  Since you say that you want to find a way to “curb the severe disappointment often tantrum” I am guessing that you are very frustrated.

My name is Laurie Prusso and I am one of the people who answer questions from parents and teachers.  I am the mother of six sons and have twelve grandchildren. In my work life, I am a Professor of Child Development at a community college in California.  Since I had a built in preschool, I never arranged play dates for any of my children, I did however deal with tantrums anyway.

Your daughter obviously enjoys spending time with other children.  When she
can't do what she wants, like most of us she feels disappointed. She doesn't
have the skill yet to handle those feelings in a grown up way (she isn't a
grown up!) so she has a tantrum. Your challenge is to remember that it is
not your job to keep her or make her happy. Instead, one of the things you
get to do as a parent is help her realize that it is okay and normal to be
disappointed sometimes.

Here is an immediate response to her next melt down.     As you walk her out of the preschool, if she is crying and screaming, simply hold her hand and walk with her.  Since you are the adult, you decide what YOU will do, and then respectfully do it. Let her have her feelings.  She does not need to be convinced OR happy about it.  In fact, it is vital that children experience disappointment and delayed gratification to prepare them for the rest of their lives.  This is an opportunity for her to learn that she can indeed cope with her own strong feelings of disappointment and even anger.  If you can be respectful and loving to her while she melts down, she will develop very good coping skills.

When you are both calm, sit down with her in a pleasant setting and briefly tell her how you feel when these episodes occur. Then listen to her share what she wants and feels.  Validate her ideas, feelings, and wants.  This does not mean that you agree with her—simply validate her.  Then say, “I think we can work this out together.”  Have a little problem solving session with her, acknowledging the things she is already doing, and set your own limit.  You can help her be grateful for what she does get to do and help her be prepared to deal with the human condition of not always getting her way.

When similar situations arise, remember that it is more about your emotions and your desire to keep her happy than it is about her tantrum.  Tantrums are typical for children her age, but they should be decreasing in frequency and lessening in intensity.  She may be responding to your reactions to her.  If you engage in a power struggle with her, she will intensify her tantrum.

In summary, it is good for her to experience disappointment and have strong feelings and responses to it.  She can learn to cope if you do not engage in power struggles with her and do not try to convince her to be happy about your decision.  Decide what you will do and stick to it.  Say it once—maybe twice—and then simply carry on.  Finally, use mutually respectful conversations when you are calm to express your love to her and validate her strong feelings.  Reassure her that when you say no, you mean it, but it will be OK for her to be upset about it.

I wish you well and hope that you get at least two afternoons a week without anything planned so that you can simply enjoy the company of your beautiful child.

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