SMACK. Things were going well the last time you checked, but now it seems that everything has rapidly turned south. A raised voice quickly escalated to altercation, and your child is the culprit of the resounding smacking sound that was clearly heard from the other room. What do you do now? Do you give him a talking to? Do you send his friend home after apologizing for the inappropriate behavior?

This is a struggle many parents face when playdates take a turn for the worse and their child is the instigator. Thankfully, there are a few approaches that you can take to help your child learn how to appropriately respond to frustrations with their friends.

Take A Positive Approach

When your child lashes out at his friend, it may be tempting to immediately give him a lecture, send him to time-out, or end the playdate right then and there. These negative approaches may end the behavior in the moment, but they simply won’t be effective in the long-term. By doing all of the thinking and enforcing yourself, you are not helping your child learn to self-regulate his emotions and get along with others when he is frustrated. Instead, take a positive approach that encourages your child to think for himself and develop better problem-solving skills in the future.

Encourage Thinking and Empathy

How do you encourage your child to think about his inappropriate behavior? Ask him thought-provoking questions. Instead of reprimanding your child when he lashes out, turn the tables by asking him how he thinks his friend feels when he acts that way. This question helps your child acknowledge how his actions can impact others, which also helps him develop a sense of empathy. Over time, your child will begin to second-guess lashing out when he is upset – not because he is afraid of being reprimanded by you, but because he understands that his actions cause pain for others.

Try Social Skills Groups

Sometimes these steps are not enough. If problems with playdates continue to persist, consider trying a structured social skills group. These groups are specially designed to help children develop self-awareness and appropriate peer interaction within a fun and safe environment. For many children, age-appropriate social skills can be difficult to master for a variety of reasons, such as difficulties with communication, impulse control, or emotional regulation. In the structured therapeutic setting of a social skills group, children can work on understanding emotions, developing self-awareness, practicing sharing, following instructions, and developing coping strategies.

LifeStance Health offers a variety of social skills groups for both children and adolescents. Before your child begins attending one of these groups, you will have the opportunity to meet with one of our caring clinicians to discuss your concerns and create treatment goals tailored to your child’s needs. If your child’s playdates have been going south and you’re not sure what to do next, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. We can help you determine the best next steps for your child’s situation.