How Important Are Play Dates for 7 Yo?

Updated on June 09, 2018
P.C. asks from Walnut Creek, CA
15 answers

My son is 7 years old, shy, and "slow to warm". He does not make friends easily because he is shy, but after feeling more comfortable with them, he is fun and goofy.

Both my husband and I are working parents. We are also working-class people in a fancy private school and feel kind of out of place among the other parents. Hence, we have not scheduled as many playdates as we should have. How important are playdates in helping my child feel more comfortable with the other kids and make new friends.

We have noticed that despite a bunch of playdates with some kids, they are no closer to being better friends. But with other kids, the friendship becomes really, really intense (too intense that we need to branch out)..

Should I let it happen naturally at school and not try to micromanage this aspect of his childhood? I would love to hear that it does that matter.

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answers from Los Angeles on

my son is also 7, we are both working parents, and I know exactly what you are talking about. My son is painfully shy, but he wants friends and will beg and cry for me to find him some. so, i enrolled him in before and after school program at his school (mixed age), take him to the local parks and science center, zoos, etc every weekend, and let him run and play with whomever he should meet. while he does not have a "best" friend, he seems so much happier, and I am glad I was able to help my little man kindle his own friendships.

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answers from Washington DC on

i struggle a little with playdates, which seem to be the main way for kids to 'socialize' (another concept i find odd) these days.

my kids mostly had playdates with other kids in the neighborhood. they weren't planned out, they just happened organically. as did the socialization.

but they did have friends in school and baseball and from the barn who didn't live right there, so sometimes they'd go to their friends' houses or vice versa. but for the most part they played with THOSE friends at school or baseball or at the barn.

if there's no one in shouting distance for your kid to play with, then yeah, you've got to set up these playdates, i suppose. but it'll be hard to do since your happy medium is really pretty narrow, isn't it? if they're not besties you worry, but if their friendship becomes 'too intense' you move to shut that down.

it's hard to see how your naturally diffident child (which is not a bad thing) is going to learn to navigate human relationships under these circumstances.

i wish you'd spend more time learning about and learning to accept your son's personality just as he is instead of trying to manipulate the environment to conform to some ideal that's never really defined.

your intensity is probably troubling to the parents of the other kids. i think your best bet is to stop trying so hard, and just let your son make friends at his own pace. when they invite him, or when he likes another kid enough to ask for him to be invited to your place, that's the time to set something up.

and then let it unfold how it unfolds. every playdate doesn't work out. not every kid with whom yours spends an afternoon is destined to be a best friend. that's okay.


trust your kid, just a little.

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answers from Minneapolis on

My kids are now 16 and 18, and I would say let it be and don't micromanage. Adults should not need to manage and schedule play for children, it should happen spontaneously. I fell into the playdate circuit habit without really thinking it through, when my kids were younger, because everyone was doing it, and it seemed such and innocent and friendly thing to do. But If I had to do it all over again, I would seriously just not do "playdates" In my experience, I will tell you that a full playdate calendar does not necessarily turn a child into a social success in later childhood. Fostering their independence would be much better.

That being said, give him plenty of natural opportunities for play with other children. Get him outside with a bike, or a basketball, in your own neighborhood this summer. Invest in some fun yard toys he can share and play with kids in your neighborhood. Go to the local pool, the playground, etc. Have him pick a few clubs, sports, interests, or camps.

Occasionally, I would allow him to invite a friend to a movie, or baseball game, or some kind of outing or event. But most importantly, let HIM decide who to invite, and have HIM do the calling, asking, etc. If he is too shy for this, just give him some time, and encourage him a little later, and support him when he starts taking the lead, but don't start doing it for him.

Don't allow yourself to fell so much pressure about other parents and kids planning oodles of playdates. Give him more independence and control of his playtime.

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answers from Seattle on

7 year olds don't have "intense" relationships.
You have only posted two things on this board, and both of them are relating to your child's friends.
I think you might be projecting some of your issues on to your son.
Let your boy be. He will make friends in his class, at his daycare, with his family. He doesn't need you to be micromanaging his 7 year old social life.
My kids don't have play dates. They play at school, play with kids on their sports teams, play with neighbors.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I get that it's hard - we are both working too, but I'm not going to tell you it doesn't matter - especially since my last advice to you was to try to get your son to branch out with this friendships by having playdates.

Here is what I will say: Does your son play on teams or is he in cub scouts or some other activity (even a neighborhood posse of kids to run around with) where he is interacting with a small group of other kids on a regular basis so that he has the chance to make friends outside of school? If the answer is yes and he has lots of opportunities to be in small groups of kids to make friends, then no, playdates are less important. This describes my son, and so we tend to set up a playdate about once a month on a weekend, which is less than other people I know. However, if your child is not on any teams or in any clubs and there no opportunity for him to play with other kids in the neighborhood, then I think yes, playdates are pretty important because he needs the opportunity to learn social skills with his peers outside of school. If this describes you, then you need to step up a little, and make more opportunities for your child to grow socially and develop friends - maybe 2-3 per month.

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answers from Dallas on

I think play dates are important to help your child socially.

You say you feel out of place with the school.. rest assured, your feelings transfer to him because children pick up on what's going on with mom and dad. Maybe you and your husband can address why you feel the way you do and possibly move him to a more comfortable school where he does fit in. Academics is not the only important factor in education. Children have to learn how to deal with people, be social and work together because that is what happens later in life.

What other activities does he have? I also think it is important to have different groups of friends.... ex: church family, scouts, martial arts, sports, etc.. whatever his interests are.

I do not think micromanaging his life is healthy BUT, he needs options so HE can grow socially.

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answers from Portland on

We did activities and that's kind of where our kids met the children that they had most in common with.

I too have shy kids who warm up when comfortable. I was the same. So I can relate.

I wouldn't micromanage. I also wouldn't overthink. When it happens naturally, are the best kind.

We never seemed to do as many as other parents, but we're introverts. So if we compare ourselves to social butterflies it makes sense. Do what feels right for your family and your son. It will come. It happens more as they get older. He'll take the lead more and he'll grow out of his shyness.

Is he in after school care? Is he in any activities? If so, he's seeing/socializing with kids. Playdates don't happen often for some families and that's ok.

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answers from San Francisco on

When I was growing up, we never called them play dates, my mom didn't arrange them weeks in advance, and if the neighbor happened to be outside at the same time I was, we'd hold our own impromptu "play date". Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. Times have certainly changed, and the way many people live their lives is very different. Parents are busy, and are shuffling their children to lessons, clubs, events, etc. Play dates simply don't happen spontaneously that much anymore; that leaves it up to parents to plan them. I would love to say that they're not that important, but, honestly, I think they are. Friendships really blossom when you meet outside of school (or outside of clubs, church, whatever the case may be). Bonds between friends are strengthened, and kids are making great memories together. And (if the play date goes well) that translates to strengthened friendships at school too.

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answers from Santa Barbara on

My daughter is 24, we never called them play dates!! At that age she was playing softball and figure skating. She had tons of friends through her activities that she would hang out with and she is still friends with most of them no! We both worked as well.

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answers from Santa Fe on

I let my kids take the lead. My daughter is about your son's age. She plays with neighbor kids and she enjoys the friends she sees at soccer and dance. And there are times where she begs to have a school friend come over that she doesn't get to see often. If the timing works out I text the other parent and perhaps that friend comes over for a while. But I don't really try to have playdates every week or schedule things in advance. It just happens naturally. Does your son ask for a certain friend to come over? Does he have neighbor friends? Does he have friends in any activity he does? My son's two best friends did not live in our neighborhood when he was this young and he would BEG for them to come over all the time. I think playdates can help somewhat with kids become better friends...but mostly if they "click" they just instantaneously want to be friends at this age. They are excited to see each other. They beg for time together. That seems to be what happens with my kids. If they don't "click" with another kid they don't ask to play with them and they just don't think of it or really care. If I invite that kid over it doesn't seem to help with their know? I do think playdates are good if you live somewhere with no neighborhood friends...simply because it is more fun to play with a friend, run around outside together, build something, pretend something, kick a soccer ball together. I think if he wants to have a certain friend over, then why not? If he is really shy it might be helpful for him...but only if he wants to do it.

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answers from San Francisco on

Of course socializing with other children outside of school is important, but I imagine he already does this at before/after school care? Signing him up for activities/camps can expose him to different kids/social opportunities as well. My kids had a lot of play dates but I have to confess that as a stay at home mom that was more for my own sanity than to "enrich" them in any way. They also played with cousins and family friends when we got together on the weekends.
Is it possible to join a neighborhood pool/swim club this summer? That's a GREAT way for kids to make new friends and burn off energy!

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answers from Kansas City on

I think they are somewhat important, especially since you are both working and it doesn't sound like he'll be able to have the organic playdates of kids coming by the house after school, etc. Additionally, if you're in a private school then maybe you don't all live in the same neighborhood which would make playing with friends a little more difficult since it would involve adult coordination.

That being said, at 7 I think it can be hit or miss. My daughter (the oldest) didn't have a ton of playdates at 7, but my son who is 2 years younger, has been vying for them since preschool! So he's had a lot more (he's 8 now) but it's not always easy to coordinate and many of his friends parents don't necessarily seem that keen on organizing them. Plus, many kids have busy sports schedules, etc. which makes it difficult to get together during the week.

Try to let him guide you at this point. If he's interested in them and asks for friends to come over then try to plan a few, but don't make yourself crazy.

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answers from Chicago on

Does your son express interest in playdates or are they stressful for him? For my son who was also "slow to warm", playdates were pretty essential at that age in helping him feel comfortable and develop friendships. School was just too crowded and busy for him to connect with other kids much, until he was older. Can you ask his teachers about his relationships at school? If he is keeping to himself at school, then I would say the playdates are pretty important. I'm not sure what you mean about some friendships becoming "really intense". Some kids (and adults) are social butterflies and enjoy lots of friendships, but others are perfectly happy with one or two close friends. Trust your son's judgment. If he enjoys playdates with certain kids, then try to make time for some of them. Maybe also explore the possibility of adult friendships with the parents too. You might be surprised to find you can connect with some. I attended a small private elementary school, but at least a third of my graduating class was also on scholarship.

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answers from Norfolk on

Play dates are nice to have but they are not essential.
He's at a good age to start trying an after school activity.
Taekwondo is a great way for him to meet more kids outside of school.
At this age one activity at a time is enough.
If he doesn't like it then when he finishes one (like after a year) then he can try another.
By middle school he might be might try playing a band instrument - and band is a wonderful way to make new friends.

This is about the clingy vine friend that clamps onto your kid.
It's too bad this friend is too intense - but it's not your or your sons job to fix this kid.
The relationship makes you feel uncomfortable - that's enough to keep your (and your sons) distance.
An after school activity is a great way to branch out and meet other kids.
I think 'micromanage' isn't the right term.
You know your kid - and it's perfectly fine for a parent to steer an elementary age kid in situations until he's mature enough to manage friendships on his own - and this happens by middle school.
There is zero zip nada need for your son to 'practice' with any friend that makes you uncomfortable.

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answers from Atlanta on

Our kids are 16 and 12, so I view your question from the perspective of someone whose kids have passed through the phase of your son. We did not go out of our way to organize play dates for either of our children. If they asked to play with a certain person or one of their friends called, we'd get them together, however I didn't feel a need to arrange a play date for them regularly. I'd suggest that your son probably gets enough social/play time with friends at school and through any outside activities, so you don't need to put energy into creating social interactions for him. In fact, I bet he will be most comfortable hanging out with other kids while they are doing an activity that they both like. Have you tried some low-key extracurricular activities? Are there activities he enjoys and you could find the time and money to get him involved with?

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