Mindfulness practice helps your child develop great social skills of awareness, patience, nonjudgment and clear communication. Playdates can be an ideal time to cultivate and practice mindfulness.
A mindful playdate does involve some planning. Take a hint from the way preschools organize activities (even if your child is older than preschool age). The orderliness, high attention to activities, clean up and talking rules are very soothing to children. Giving the children too many options for activities, or leaving the play date entirely open-ended, often results in less fun for the kids and big headaches for you!
Starting with snack time is important to help prevent meltdowns, and it’s a wonderful time to teach children mindfulness. Ask the children to help set out the snacks. It’s better not to turn on the TV; instead, sit together at the kitchen or dining table. It’s OK if the kids eat quietly, and if they are chatting away, you can laugh along and even add a few comments.
When the children have finished their snacks, ask them to help with putting the dishes away, wiping the table and sweeping the floor of any crumbs they left behind.
Many playdates combine indoor and outdoor activities. Typically, parents send the children outside to “burn off energy.” You’ll need to decide this ahead of time: is your child likely to get very wound up after playing outside? In this case, it may be better to start indoors.
Play some quiet or meditative music as the children play indoors. Doing art together is a wonderful quiet playing option that brings out the children’s creativity. Be sure to have plenty of paper, paints and brushes or crayons. Modeling clay is also a great choice.
Other fun activities include planting seeds in small pots, hand-making bread together, kitchen science experiments, and playing with building blocks and toys.
Let your guidance of the children be subtle, so that they can spend ore time interacting with each other. When you do need to give them directions, speak to them in a quiet voice. Teachers in Japan lower their voices to get children to listen more carefully.
Children don’t always play together during play dates, but sometimes prefer to play near each other. It’s not necessary to get them into the same activity, but from time to time talk with each child about what they are doing, or to direct their attention to their playmates’ activity. Time apart is also a good way to handle conflicts that can arise.
Problems sometimes happen when both children want the same toy at the same time. Prepare your child in advance to share graciously. This doesn’t mean their friend gets to hog the toy, but that the guest gets the first turn. Be sure to clearly explain how this sharing rule works, so that your child’s playmate also can practice sharing,
When it’s time to clean up ask the children to put the toys back exactly where they found them. This helps encourage a strong mindset of noticing, the key skill of mindfulness.
Ask the children to pack up the playmate’s belongings as well, and let them think about the best ways to carry home any projects he or she worked on. Doing this supports critical thinking and planning – and the playmate’s parents will be grateful and impressed!
Afterwards, ask your child about the play date. What was most fun for your child? What did his or her friend seem to enjoy? If there were moments of conflict, what did your child notice or learn?
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