Mar 26

To Play Date or Not to Play Date?

While cleaning my son Tristan’s room I found a piece of scrap paper with his distinct pencil scrawl.

Things I hate:

1. When my brother talks during my computer turn.

2. Parsnips.

3. Play dates.

I knew my son was annoyed when other children came over, but I had no idea his disdain was such that it necessitated the making of a written list.

My 8-year-old twin boys are managing their sensory processing disorder (SPD) very well these days, but its presence still infiltrates every fiber of our lives. Will is more of an extrovert; he loves play dates and pesters me to schedule more of them, while Tristan can barely get through one every couple weeks without melting down or shouting at his guest as if they were an intruder.

Play dates have always been an issue for us. Both prefer to play at other people’s houses, with different toys and new experience, and they usually behave better out than on their home turf. But we don’t get invited to other’s homes as often as our neurotypical friends, and when we do, we’re not always invited back a second time. Thankfully, my boys haven’t noticed yet. The lack of play dates on our social calendar has puzzled me. I want confirmation from other parents. Is it their behavior (or mine :))? Is it because the chemistry isn’t right between the kids? Is it because you’re perplexed by my son’s SPD and/or anxiety? I try not to take it personally, but inside it hurts a little when I see regular play date photos on Facebook and we’re not in their loop.

Instead of talking about feeling left out, I tell my boys, “If you want to be invited to someone else’s house for a play date, the first step is to invite them over to yours.” But I’m struggling to balance Will’s desire for a daily play date with Tristan’s complete contempt for them.

I can see both perspectives. Will makes friends easily, is flexible, and generally resolves issues without much fuss. Play dates are fun for him. Tristan, an introverted book worm, doesn’t seem to need friends, and is bothered by guests who touch and move his toys, play noisily, and make a mess that he has to clean up afterward. For him, there is no upside. Despite Tristan’s dislike, I viewed play dates as good practice for him, forcing him to manage his feelings through challenging social situations with his peers. But in public school, he gets that practice all day long.

I want to accept that Tristan doesn’t need friends, that he might be a content loner as an adult. But as an introverted scientist and writer who, even in her 40’s, is still yearning for deeper, meaningful friendships, I also want Tristan to have the skills to make and enjoy friends, even if he chooses not to use those tools as an adult.

Inside I know that we’ll all be fine, no matter how many or few play dates we have. But so far, none of us is completely satisfied with our journey through the complex world of the elementary school play date. I can’t even let myself think about how this will morph as we head into middle and high school. Have play dates been an issue for your family? I’d love to hear your hopes, fears, and suggestions, so please post them here, and thanks in advance for being a supportive member of this ETL community.