My Son Can’t Handle Play Dates

Tips for moms to figure out how to get out of the house when their child cannot handle play dates or social situations without a meltdown.
Child upset on a slide at a playground
anonymous guest post
For the record, I’m an extrovert. I’m an extroverted, stay at home mom who’s son has a hard time with play dates. The loneliness from this has led to some very dark days and very dark feelings. But don’t worry, this story has hope, just like yours. 

Life With a Speech Delay

Let me back up and give some context here… my son has a speech delay which leads to social anxiety. Not a delay like he’s hard to understand but mostly able to communicate, a delay that means he has very few words. As in, he’s 3 and has a vocabulary of maybe 25 real words. Now anyone who knows a 3 year old knows they tend to talk incessantly about anything and everything. So while others are able to say “that light is green mama”, my son just points and makes noise to get my attention while we’re driving. Since there are about a million and one things you can see while driving down the road, I tend to not know what he’s trying to say. Multiply this by a thousand situations per day and you get the gist of what our life looks like. 
As you can probably surmise, this leads to some massive meltdowns… screaming in other kids faces when they ask his name on the playground… running away and hiding in the corner during library time while the other kids sing and dance…. further reclusion into his own little world. It’s heartbreaking to see him alone while surrounded by other children. Especially since I don’t always know how to help. Do I let him struggle? Step in and save him? Help him to approach and make friends? I’ve tried it all and so far it’s on a case by case basis of how I respond. 
Picture of an upset child on a slide with the words What To Do When Your Child Hates Playdates

Play Date Struggles

What’s the biggest piece of advice you hear given to stay at home moms? “Get out of the house, make mom friends, socialize with other adults.” And trust me y’all, I would love to. I love having a coffee and sitting at the park with a mom friend or two while our kids happily play on the playscape. But if I’m not watching and my son starts melting down, I will have no idea what happened. Did he get hurt? Is he scared? Did his toy get taken away? He’s hungry? Tired? Just emotional? Who knows because I certainly don’t. Unless my eyes and ears are on him 85% of the time, I won’t have enough context to place what’s wrong. Not really the best environment to hear about your friend’s postpartum struggles or how excited they are to work from home part-time. The attention just isn’t able to be there.
Add onto this the fact that my son doesn’t love tons of kids around (he’s an introvert) and gets upset when they talk to him, and you don’t have a recipe for a good time. I can’t put into words how many times I’ve had to leave the scene or deal with a tantrum more than I got to actually talk to anyone. It makes leaving the house stressful and usually just not worth it in the end.

How To Cope with Play Date Struggles

So, if you find yourself nodding along to this article and saying “that’s me! What do I do? Help!” Well… here’s my advice.
  1. Find one activity per week that you’re going to tough it out in, no matter what. The gym, a mom hiking group, playground on Fridays, anything. And then DO IT. I promise your kiddo will get better with consistency. And others that are there consistently will grow used to him, and if you never see them again well then who cares how many times they roll their eyes at you?
  2. Find friends who have (preferably calmer) kids to be around and who won’t mind if your attention is divided. Who won’t be offended that you just had to walk off in the middle of their story to handle a meltdown. Again.
  3. Ignore everyone else. Now, this is counterintuitive considering what I’m trying to give advice on, but seriously. Trust your gut. Grandmas and neighbors and church friends and strangers at the grocery store will give advice and tell you what you need to do. Ignore them and listen to your mom instincts (this article included if it says things that don’t mesh with what you feel is best for your kid). I’ve had people tell me he needs to be in school, we need to just ignore him until he talks, we need to spank to stop the tantrums, we need to get ear tubes put in, we need to teach more sign language, we need to put him in special education (again, he’s 3)… on and on and on. It’s exhausting and unhelpful and needs to be ignored.
  4. Beef up your house to stay home more. I’m not saying buy your kid everything they ever want but if an inflatable pool in the backyard is going to help you on long summer days, do it.
  5. On the flip side of that, start working on taking your kiddo out more by yourself. It’s hard (for an outgoing mama like myself) because I’d always rather more people be around. But by going to museums, parks, walks, stores, etc with just you and your little you’ll accomplish leaving the house and also maybe find a mom to talk to for a few minutes. Baby steps, guys.
  6. Know that this season will gradually get easier and easier, and someday will be behind you. We’ve been battling the social issues since my son was 18 months and his delay began to be noticeable. He’s now 3 and we are WAY ahead of where we were. He’s still delayed compared to others his age and it’s always a struggle but as long as I have the right tools in my belt for him, we do okay. And you will too.

Pinnable image with text and a picture of an upset child on a slide at the playground

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4 thoughts on “My Son Can’t Handle Play Dates”

  1. This was a blessing thank you. My three year old had a wonderful 2 hour playdate but a usual when it was time to leave he screamed and we literally had to carry him to the car over the shoulder without his shoes or coat. All the other 3 years olds there that we normally see are always calm and listen to their parents. Hard to feel joyful or proud. I dread going out, he’s almost 4 but it hurts my heart because he loves being around kids and I’m physically and emotionally and mentally drained.

    • That is so hard! I am sorry. I would experiment with giving him a heads up (we are leaving in 10 minutes! We are leaving in 5 minutes!). I would also talk before you go about expectations (when it is time to leave, this is how you leave. We don’t scream and cry. I know it is disappointing when it is time to go, but we need to not scream.)


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