We all want our children to learn how to be social. Getting together with other kids gives them a chance to learn how get along with others. Linda Morgan, editor of ParentMap magazine and author of the book, Beyond Smart, has more.

Why are play dates important?
They help kids develop socially and emotionally. Play dates teach kids about relationships. Kids learn to think about what another child wants or needs. This helps them learn about empathy. And empathy is the foundation of tolerance. It's the antidote for bullying.

What else are kids learning?
They learn to wait their turn and to be polite and respectful - both as hosts and as guests. They learn to cooperate and to collaborate - to plan together, to agree on things, and what to do when they disagree. And they learn how to stick up for themselves and that relationships are give and take. Most of all, they learn how to share.

How can parents help make playdates successful?
Limit the time the kids spend together to 90 minutes to two hours. Don't overplan - stay with the simple things. Get out an old bed sheet so the friends can play parachute; let them set up a store with empty food containers and play money; give them some space, some papers and crayons and let them be creative. Don't allow any physical fighting - that's when you might want to separate them for a short time.

What do parents need to know about playdates?
When you arrange a play date, try to find a friend your child already knows - through preschool, a gym class or your friendships. These really work best if the kids have already met and have something in common - and you know they get along.

Tell the kids what's OK and what's not. Soon after your child's playmate arrives, talk about what the rules are in your home. Are they allowed to turn on the TV? To take what they want out of the refrigerator? Make sure your child takes some responsibility for her friend.

Be prepared to introduce something new, especially if an activity doesn't appeal to one of the kids. And be sure to ask the kids what they'd like to do. Make them feel part of the plan.

If these are very young kids - 3 and under - you should be in the same room. If they are older, say 5 to 10, it's still a good idea to stay within earshot. Plan your schedule so you're fully available, not talking on the phone or concentrating on something else. You may be called upon to be referee, or at the very least, activity director.

Read or Share this story: