Ask Sarah: How to Prepare for Playdates

Parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet share tips for making play dates easier when your child struggles with sharing, and it doesn't involve forcing them to share!

By Sarah Rosensweet

Ask Sarah: How to Prepare for Playdates

Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance.

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Q: What is the best way to approach having friends over for my daughter (4-year old only child) who really struggles with having other kids in her space and using her toys. I don't want to force her to share but still want her friend to feel welcome.

two kids fighting over an apple outside

A: It’s great that you don’t want to force your child to share. 

Lots of well-meaning parents think that forced sharing will make kids more generous when in fact the opposite is true. Pro-social behaviour, like sharing and helping, increases when it feels good to do it. 

Let’s say you had a cookie and I wanted some of it. If you decided to share with me, and you saw how happy it made me, it would make you feel good about yourself and you’d be likely to share again in the future.

However, if someone else forced you to share your cookie with me, even if it made me happy, you would likely be angry and resentful because you had no choice in the matter and you wouldn’t be more inclined to share in the future. 

Any time we force children to share, they feel powerless and resentful. It makes them hold onto things even more tightly as they could be taken away at any moment. This fear makes kids rigid and gets in the way of generosity. 

We have to remember that kids want to be good and they want their friends to like them! Be patient while your daughter matures and this becomes easier for her. 

In the meantime, I have a few suggestions. 

  1. Before her friend comes over, ask her what toys she would like to put away. “Is there anything special you don’t want your friend to play with?” This will let her feel she has some power and say in the situation and she won’t feel as tense.
  2. Before the playdate, have a laughter and roughhousing session with her for a few minutes to help her shed any tension or big feelings she may be carrying around in her body so that she goes into this tricky situation a little bit more relaxed.
  3. Keep the playdates shorter. All kids have a hard time keeping it “together” for long stretches.
  4. Help her work out her feelings through play. Tell her “Let’s pretend that I want to play with your toys but you won’t let me.” Tell her to not let you use anything but keep begging to play with all her toys. Be VERY silly and get her laughing about you being “upset” about not being able to play with her toys. When she can laugh at you, it will help her release some of her feelings around this issue. Or reverse the roles. Any laughing about this will help!
  5. If it’s still hard, empathize and have a problem solving discussion with her the next time she wants to have a friend over. “I noticed that the last time your friend came over, it was really hard for you to let them play with your toys. It’s really tough to share sometimes, isn’t it? The thing is though sweetie-  If we have friends over, they need to have something to play with with you! Do you have any ideas for how we can solve this problem?”
  6. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is normal. It’s not because you’ve done anything wrong and it doesn’t mean she is going to grow up to be a selfish person. In fact, the more relaxed you can be, the more she will pick up on your calm sense that this is not an emergency.

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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15- and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be. Read more at:  or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!

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