Off the top of my head, I can think of loads of reasons it might be hard to find a playdate for a child. Allergies that make going to another person’s house or a play place dangerous. Having an older child and a new baby at home so you’re too exhausted to get out of the house. Being the new mom in town. Speaking English as a second language. Developmental delays or issues like autism that make it hard for kids to keep up or interact or even just make friends. Finding a playdate for your child is sometimes no picnic!

And there are few things harder on a mom than watching a child having a tough time making friends. Here are five ways you can help your kids spend more time playing with other children, no matter what your situation:

Find your unique community

If you have a family challenge that sets your kids apart (e.g., allergies, medical issues, autism, etc.) it doesn’t mean you have to seek out playdate pals coping with the same issues. But there is value in connecting with other local moms who are in the same boat. Sometimes it’s awesome just to be able to kick back and hang with another family who gets it so you can have a good time without having to explain what your child can and can’t eat or why they are doing a certain behavior.

Make more mom friends

When you meet moms who love you and your kids, they’re going to bend over backward to make playtime (and mom time) a priority. Good mom friends know you’re too tired to even think about putting on your shoes so they’ll bring the playdate to you. Your best mom friends will show up with playdate snacks and then help clean up the crumbs.

Take it out of the house

Suggesting a meetup on a specific day/time at a local playground or play place is an informal way to get to know local moms who you’ve only encountered at school drop off. For instance, at pick up, you might say “We’re going to the park around the block tomorrow after school – want to come?” The best part is there’s no pre- and post-playdate cleanup required.

Encourage kids to join clubs

Older kids who don’t feel a connection with their classmates may find besties at after-school activities where kids from lots of classes mix and mingle. If you’re able to volunteer at one or more sessions, do it! You’ll meet not only the kids but some of the moms, too. If not, ask if there is a contact sheet for parents of the kids in the club and start reaching out.

Have a chat with your child

Shy kids or kids who are feeling left out because of family challenges may really want friends but have a harder time making them. Talk to your child about who they’d like to be friends with and who they’ve had fun within the past, and start from there. Older children may not want you planning a ‘playdate’ but be open to you inviting a whole family over for a shared activity. And younger children may need more help in understanding how to be a good friend – role-playing is one way to prepare for playdates. Having playdate activities planned is another.

One word of caution, however. Some children are just more introverted than their parents and don’t crave as much social time. It’s okay to play playdates for very young children without consulting them first but as your kids get older, make a point of asking them if they want to play a playdate or an outing with such-and-such a friend. You may be surprised to discover that your kids’ playdate preferences don’t always line up with your own.

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