Tips for Planning Special Needs Playdates

Playdates are great for both kids and parents. They break up the monotony of the day and add scheduled time for socialization and play. For parents of special needs children, choosing the right playdate can relieve stress and anxiety.

As you begin your planning, remember you know your child better than anyone. If structure and routine are important, be sure to prepare them in advance for the playdate. Consider putting the date on a calendar, and count down the days together. Also, letting them know what to expect once you are there may help to decrease anxiety and prevent any meltdowns from occurring.

Here are some tips to make your next playdate a success from Tasha Cleaver, former executive director of Carter’s Play Place.

What tips do you have for parents who want to have playdates in their own home, or at a friend’s home? 

The best playdates include a variety of options. Take the time to find out what the other playmates attending enjoy. The parent(s) will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and it will help the child feel comfortable in your home with a preferred activity. Keep in mind they don’t necessarily have to engage in the same activity at the same time. Parallel play, or side-by-side play, is an important step in childhood development. Let the children take the lead. If one wants to paint while the other stacks blocks in the same area, consider that a win!

What tips do you have for parents who want to have playdates outside of the home? 

With warmer weather coming, the outdoor playdate returns! Look for locations that provide outdoor and indoor options that are well maintained and safe for everyone. Some examples are your backyard, parks, nature preserves, and indoor/outdoor recreational centers. How about an outdoor movie playdate? Or how fun would a photo scavenger hunt at a local park or nature preserve be? SO much fun and great for all ages!

Some playmates may get overwhelmed by outdoor sensory stimulation, sensitive to temperatures, or may have access-mobility needs. Reach out to see what everyone needs to make the playdate accessible and comfortable for all.

Are there certain things parents should take into consideration when planning play dates?

The “Golden Rule for a Successful Playdate” is to set the parameters of the playdate along with the other parent(s), and take everyone’s needs into consideration. Setting the time, location, who will attend, whether there will be snacks, if parents will stay or drop off. However, be willing to take the lead! Some parents will likely appreciate the effort on your part and it may strengthen the relationship between adults, too.

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