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Playdates are a great opportunity for your child to fine-tune his social skills, but even at this age they require patience and conscientiousness on your part to run smoothly. When your grade-schooler gives his playmate a tongue-lashing for accidentally tearing his drawing, resist the urge to lecture, give him a time-out, or send his visitor home. Negative approaches like these might curb the behavior for the moment, but since you're doing all the thinking and the enforcing, your youngster learns nothing about how to get along in the future. Besides, if he hears enough reprimands, he'll start to tune them out. Instead, take a positive approach, one that encourages him to think for himself and sets the stage for problem solving in the future.
When your grade-schooler refuses to share or yells at his buddy, ask him, "How do you think Milo feels when you treat him that way?" By helping your child acknowledge his pal's injured feelings and encouraging his sense of empathy, you'll teach him to choose options with positive consequences for himself and his friends. The goal, of course, is for him to refrain from lashing out not because he's afraid of getting in trouble, but because he understands that it causes others pain.
Follow up by asking, "What do you think will happen next?" The answer you're looking for isn't about punishment ("I'll lose a privilege"), but something along the lines of "Milo might not like me," or "Milo won't want to come over anymore." Next ask him, "How would you feel if that happened?" This lets your child know that his feelings are important, too. Finally, prompt him to do some problem solving by asking, "Can you think of a different way to tell Milo how you feel about having your picture ripped?" Kids are often eager to come up with solutions on their own, and he might decide to tell his friend, "I really liked that drawing. Can you please be more careful next time?" When he figures out a workable way to handle the problem, tell him "Good thinking" rather than "Good idea," to reinforce that he thinks, not what he thinks.
Handle the situation the same way when your visitor does the instigating. Ask him how he thinks your child feels, what he thinks might happen next, how that would make him feel, and what he might do instead. Or encourage the children to put their heads together: "Can you two think of a different way to deal with this?"
Of course, you may be wondering how you'll find time to ask all these questions. It's a bit laborious at first, but once your youngster gets used to thinking about his behavior in this way, you won't have to go through the entire process. In time, all you'll need to ask is "What can you do to solve this problem?"