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Guide to a Successful Playdate

Play dates are a wonderful way for children to meet and develop relationships with peers. On the surface, play may look simple and straightforward, however this is almost never the case. A successful playdate often requires forethought and planning for both neurotypical children, as well as those with social cognitive challenges. Play is complex and dynamic; it requires planning, flexibility and communication, all aspects that have the potential to lead to challenges throughout a play date. There are many ways to plan, practice and execute a play date that can leave a child feeling successful and excited for future play dates. PLANNING: Discuss the upcoming play date with the child

  • Who will be there?

  • Where will the children be playing?

  • What would the child like to do with their play partner?

Role play various aspects of the play date, especially those that may be challenging

  • Greeting and/or farewell

  • Introducing the play partner to the play area

  • Sharing a material

Create a schedule

  • Think about going on a NYC subway at a station with the live train schedule displayed on screen. It can be calming and helpful to know what is next (even if the schedule says the train is 13 minutes away). Most people like to know what is coming next, what to expect and how long they can expect to wait. The same is true for play dates. Create a visual schedule (words and pictures), including 2-5 “tasks” for a child to refer back to throughout the playdate. For example:

  1. Hello

  2. Legos

  3. Snack Break

  4. Magnatiles

  5. Goodbye

Plan for breaks, include it in your schedule

  • Rather than have a break as an option, include it in the schedule proactively

  • Eat a snack, use the restroom or get a cup of water

Limit Setting

  • Determine what toys will be available

  • Decide what area of the house, park, etc. is “open”

  • Close the door to places that are off limits (e.g., basement, bedroom) and share that these areas are not available if a child attempts to move there

  • Put toys the child does not want others playing with (e.g., safety toys, special materials) in the “off limits” areas.

Schedule a timeframe for the playdate and stick to it

  • It should be short and end on a positive note

  • This leaves both children with positive thoughts about the interaction and excited about potentially playing together in the future

Choosing materials to have available during the playdate

  • Collaboratively choose toys with the child hosting the playdate or both children if meeting in a neutral space

  • Choose toys that encourage collaboration and sharing (e.g., Legos, puzzles, blocks)

DURING PLAY DATE: Give the child space to navigate play with their peer

  • Allow the children to work through disagreement independently at first

  • Step in when the child seeks support or the interaction is escalating

  • Facilitate a conversation between the children to determine the problem and potential solutions

Use job talk

  • Some children may benefit from support to determine roles in play

  • Give children “jobs” in play by adding -er to an action

  • For example: when playing with Legos, one child may be the “passer” and the other is the “stacker”


  • Social ThinkingⓇ has many resources to support collaborative play and interactions with children who have social cognitive challenges. This article provides helpful information about collaborative play and can provide insight into ways to support a child who is at each level.

  • Brain Balance

  • Child Mind


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