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mending a playdate gone wrong
Illustration: Lauren Rebbeck.

How to Mend a Playdate Gone Wrong

Follow this expert advice to resolve any conflicts that may arise from a playdate.

On a recent playdate, my son and his friend got into a real tussle and the other boy got hurt. My son apologized and I apologized to the other mother, but the boys haven’t had a playdate since. How can I make peace with the child (and parent) and repair the relationship?

Eli Harwood, mother and psychotherapist at PASS Center, shares the following advice for parents:

Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship—even for our kids. We are so often focused on getting our children to behave properly that we forget how messy emotions and needs can be with all of our loved ones, including our friends. Making a repair in a relationship generally has three prongs:

1. Owning missteps and apologizing (which you both did).

2. Understanding the impact our child’s actions had on the other person’s child.

3. Re-establishing new standards of relating.

Many people never even get to step one, so be proud of yourself that you and your son have the capacity for remorse. The next best move? I would reach out to the other parent and check in. Ask her if she’s still been thinking about the incident and if it has had a larger impact on her or her child, beyond the day it occurred.

For some people, these events can trigger their own past experiences, or even their general fears as a parent. Once she has shared with you, ask if there’s anything you can do to help make it better the next time you are together. Most people will feel better at just the suggestion, but others may have an idea of what they or their child need to re-establish the connection.

The caveat here is that it takes two to tango. If you ask her to dance and she keeps telling you her dance card is full, then perhaps it’s time to look for a better date. Playdates, like anything else, are best done with people who value us as much as we value them.

The good news is that the average parent has reasonable expectations for other children as well as their own. I know that all of my son’s friends have at some point engaged in rough behavior towards him. They have bitten him, stolen from him, called off the friendship temporarily, and been downright rude. And you know what? My son has done the same. And he isn’t even five years old yet.

The golden rule here is this: Do your best to own your mistakes, listen, and change. If that’s not enough for the other person, it’s likely triggering something far greater than the tussle they got into.

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