Your child has just started preschool and has been begging for her new best friend to come over to play. So you invite little Becky over one Sunday morning — but then what? How do you make sure the playdate goes well, no tears are shed and both kids leave happy? Read on.

Take it outside.

Depending on where you live, the time of year will matter, but if you can take your playdate outside, do so. You can play with a ball in the backyard, go on a nature hunt or just take a walk. My pediatrician always says that kids are like plants: They need water, fresh air and sunshine to grow. Being outdoors is both invigorating and calming — for kids and adults. If you take a walk, try playing I Spy with colors or describe something you see on the way. (“I see something made out of wood and metal with numbers on it.”) Have the kids guess what the object is. (“It’s that mailbox!”)

Get crafty.

If the weather’s dreary, try having indoor craft time. Kids love to create, and you don’t have to have any specific project in mind. Just break out the paper, markers, crayons, glue and safety scissors, and let them get to work. When my little one used to take a nap and the older two were playing, I would turn on the TV to get some down time during the day. Now I take out the arts and crafts bin, and they’re busy for a good hour. I save some of the special arts and crafts stuff (like pompoms and stickers) for when their friends are over. This activity never gets old.

Make playdates a drama-free zone.

If you aren’t careful, playdates can be filled with drama, especially when you have two 4-year old girls and only one Elsa dress. How do you dial it back? Try to choose noncompetitive activities. Board games are probably not the best idea if one child will likely end up in tears after a loss. Instead, choose activities that allow kids to play together without competing: playing on the backyard swing set, building a town together out of Legos or having a tea party with stuffed animals. Also make sure to talk to your child about being a good host. If you know she has one toy that she is going to have a hard time sharing, tell her she can put it away for the playdate but understand that everything else should be shared. Kids this age can start to feel empathy, so remind her how it feels to go to someone else’s house and not be allowed to play with anything.

Be a good Samaritan.

Try to be a bystander for most of the time your child has a friend over. Get involved if you need to (physical fighting or name-calling) but try to hang back if the kids are having a disagreement. See if they can work the issue out on their own first. If not, you can help them come up with a compromise and then step back again. It’ll help foster independence and problem-solving skills if you don’t try and lead the whole playdate like a camp counselor.

Finally, relax. Playdates are new for kids at this age, and they might not go as well as you would like the first time. If your child’s first playdate ends in tears, don’t worry. Learning to play nicely with others is hard; let’s be honest, some adults still can’t get it right. So try again another day, and know that you’re helping the kids gain vital life skills in the process.

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