Q I'm really stressed about play dates, and what's okay for my seven-year-old daughter's development. It seems the girls in her class (small rural school) have play dates every Friday. This seems totally excessive to me. With work and the busyness of life, I can only manage for her to have a play date about once a month. I'm regularly turning down offers without her knowledge, but it's nagging at me, am I doing right by her? What if it has a knock-on effect socially for her?
David replies: I think all of us have to prioritise what we can achieve in the limited time we have available on a daily and weekly basis. Working full-time and running a family can be exhausting and so it is crucial that we don't overload ourselves, trying to achieve some level of perceived perfection that is actually unattainable.
I can see why it might be a worry that, by not being involved in play dates, your daughter may be missing out. It is good that you have an awareness of this and that you see the importance of her feeling settled and secure, socially. The evidence, though, seems to be that she is doing fine socially. You are regularly fielding requests for her to come and visit at her friends' houses, suggesting she is happily in the thick of the social mix in school.
That said, it is good that she also has an opportunity to meet her friends outside of the school environment, as that can often help to deepen friendships with the greater freedom that hanging-out, without the school structures and routines, can bring.
Play dates are one way of achieving this; so, too, are extra-curricular activities, like sports, music, drama and so on. If you are saying that life is busy, then I would imagine that you are also trying to facilitate these kinds of activities, too. If so, then that is good. There is also a danger, though, that you could be overextended with these kinds of activities. Are your weekends, perhaps, too busy and too planned?
Having some unstructured downtime is important in families. Having time to just play is central to children's development. It also gives parents a bit of breathing space when there are no drives or drop-offs to be done.
Since play dates tend to be flexible and unstructured and fit around what works for your family, it might be that it becomes easy to invite other children over. Rather than feeling stuck into some rigid play-date merry-go-round on a Friday afternoon, you might like to consider randomly inviting other girls to your house at times that suit you and your schedule. The social outlet will be nice for your daughter and having friends visit might be fantastic entertainment for her.
Play dates might also be a substitute for some other extra-curricular activity, if you think you'd like to give her more opportunity to be with her friends outside school, but just can't fit any more 'things' into the week.