When Play Dates Go Wrong

Family Matters on 11.16.11
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Photo: puuikibeach/Creative Commons

Chatting with some other Moms the other day, I came to the realization that play dates aren't just social occasions for children. Parental chemistry and parenting styles have to be considered when arranging them. What do you do when those things don't mesh?

A good friend recently asked for advice involving a play date incident. Her six-year-old daughter enjoyed playing with another little girl we'll call Bess. Well, for the most part she did. Bess insists on choosing all the games and activities, playing them by her rules, and constantly criticizes and corrects the way other children play. Pretty basically, Bess is bossy. My friend tried advising her daughter to speak up for herself and inform Bess how it made her feel when she didn't get to choose activities or Bess spoke to her harshly. This didn't work. Finally, my friend explained what was happening to the mother who said, "Well, that's just the way Bess is. She's headstrong and she likes things a certain way, and I'm not going to change her."

At what point does Bess learn that "the way she is" may alienate other children? Probably when the play dates stop - as they did for several weeks. But my friend never explained to the other mother why. Invitations to play were simply met with, "We have other plans." Further conversation with the other Mom wasn't an option because, as my friend explained, it wasn't worth it. They had to see each other in the supermarket and at school meetings. She didn't want things to be awkward.

But awkward they are because Bess has never been given any course correction, the mother is still trying to schedule play dates, and pretty soon the excuses will have to stop.  So, what should she do? Is she asking the other mother to "change who her daughter is" by asking that Bess play more fairly? Do we put too much stock into our own social involvement with play dates when the focus should be on how the children are getting along?

I think, in this situation, it's a mixture of both. This isn't a case where two children are getting along fabulously while the parents have a personality clash. Clearly, one child isn't enjoying the play dates and feels bossed around. My advice was that my friend shouldn't worry that her honesty would be rocking the boat. In fact, it seems that her being straightforward could very well put the play dates on calmer waters.

What do you think? Have you found yourself avoiding play dates because of a personality conflict with another Mom's parenting style?

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