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“Pity Playdate Offer”

A mom reached out to me frustrated by a neighbor family that often cancelled plans with her daughter at the last minute. What really set this mom off, though, was when after a series of cancellations this family called with what she called a “pity playdate offer.” This is my response to her.

Dear Mom, Before I begin I want first to say that our she-bear tendencies are a great gift. They give us energy to take on dangerous circumstances when our children and families are at risk. They focus us in a world in which we are distracted by too many things that are often coming too fast. In your note, I hear those protective she-bear tendencies rousing (remember, not a bad thing to have). Let’s think whether we need them at the moment.

For early to middle elementary children, the social calendar is really managed by the adults (with significant input from the children). So in your circumstances it may be helpful to do some clarifying: First, were the plans that were originally made firm or squishy? “We’re not scheduled tomorrow so we’re home if your daughter wants to call” is a possibility, not a playdate. Plans are a real statement of when, where, and how long.

If the arrangements really are firm and your daughter’s friend has a mindset of a “better offer came up” this can be a painful experience for both child and compassionate mom. Facing disappointment is hard no matter what our age. As you help your daughter to manage the dissappointment, include:

  • A statement of understanding that you know she was hoping to see her friend today; (empathy)
  • A reminder that it looks as though it will have to happen another time; (reality without judgment)
  • And, an offer that you will help her make other plans or figure out other fun things to do at home. (supporting coping skills)

If/when the other child calls to make mutual plans it is not a “pity playdate offering” unless you or your child claim a “second best” mindset. To avoid the possibility that your daughter may pick up this mindset you can be careful to set her expectation that her friend may be available to play, not will be available to play. Then when things don’t work out as you and she had hoped there is no baggage.

Ask the following questions:

  • When the girls are together do they have fun?
  • Are they able to practice some balance of give and take to negotiate play without too much input from the adults?
  • Do they generally stay within acceptable boundaries of household rules? (you’re never off duty when they’re in your home)
  • Do they make safe choices when together?

If you find yourself answering yes to these questions there is no second-class status or need to worry that your daughter is experiencing anything overly negative in the relationship with the other child. Since you are neighbors, it may be that your families are friends. If the playdate process is too challenging to be fun for either you or your daughter, remember the children can still enjoy each other in the context of the families getting together while they choose other school friends for their personal playdates.

Learning to call and set up her own playdates within the context of your guidelines will support her social skills and give her the confidence to manage her entry into late elementary and pre-teen development. She is lucky to have you watching the context of her social learning.
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