We have a little trouble with playdates. We are slowly, painfully, teaching my five-and-a-half-year-old daughter to be a good hostess. She will, for reasons only she knows, abandon her friend during a playdate and go sit in her room. Sometimes she will sulk over some perceived injustice. Sometimes the friend didn’t want to go to her room. Most of the time, she doesn’t even invite her friend.
Last weekend, my daughter had a new friend over. She met her at the bus stop on the first day of school. I’m very excited about this friend because she lives in the neighborhood and has time available for playdates. We have some scheduling and personality conflicts with the other neighborhood kids.
So Ava came over to play. It was Sunday and her grandma wanted to watch the Seahawks game; we needed something for my daughter to do on a rainy day, so it was a win-win. At first, the girls played well together. I was summoned to resolve a conflict in which our guest allegedly kicked my daughter after my daughter allegedly acted like she would punch her guest. We said we do not hurt each other, we call a grownup, we apologized and that was it.
After a little while, my daughter came upstairs to ask if she and her friend could watch a movie. I said no, because we do not watch movies during playdates. We can watch movies by ourselves. When we have friends over, we play with them.
I think that’s what started it. After that, the kids were playing in the living room, where I had paused “Orange is the New Black,” and, with no inciting incident at all, my daughter ran off to her room. After it became clear that she did not invite Ava, nor was she retrieving a toy, I went back there.
I found her laying on her bed. “Ava’s out there all alone. Aren’t you gonna play with her?” I said.
“I wanna play with my American Girl doll.”
“So go play American Girl with Ava.”
“She doesn’t wanna play.”
“Well, she’s here to see you. When you have a friend over, you play with your friend. You left her all alone.”
“You love her more than me.” Obviously.
“Honey, I love YOU but you’re learning how to be a good hostess. And that means playing with your friend.”
“If you don’t come out, I’m gonna send her home.”
So my daughter went back to the living room and played with Ava. Until she left again. I found her sitting in the hallway, just outside her bedroom, petting her stuffed leopard.
“What’s wrong now?” I said.
“Ava wants to play with my horse.”
“So let her play with your horse. She’s your guest. That means you let her play with your toys.”
“You love her more than you love me!” She crossed her arms and tucked her head down.
“No, Sweetie, I’m just showing you what to do when you have friends over. If you’re not gonna play with her, I can send her home.”
“Then go play with her.” And she did.
And then she didn’t. We repeated the process two more times before I said, “Okay, Ava’s going to have to go home.” I texted Ava’s mom.
“You’ve had four chances so far to keep her here, and you keep leaving her alone. Your brother’s happy to play with her but she didn’t come over to play with your brother.” I went down the hall.
“Okay, Ava, it’s time to go home.” Ava was fine with it.
My daughter came running down the hall, “NOOOOOO! GIMME ANOTHER CHANCE!!”
“We gave you chances. You’ve had four chances. You’re out of chances.”
“NOOOOOO!” screaming, crying. She followed me down the stairs as I led Ava out the door. She grabbed my pants and my husband had to hold her back so I could leave.
I walked Ava out, and her mom was waiting on the street. I told her what had happened.
As I walked back toward the house, I saw my daughter’s bright-red- tearstained face watching her friend go.
Even before I opened the door, I heard, “NOOOOOOOO! I WANT AVA! I WANT AVA! I WANT AVA!”
“Then you should have played with her when she was here,” I said.
“I WAAANT AVA! NOOOOO!” she cried. “I waaaant Aaaava, I want Aaaava, I waaant Aaaava!” And she ran toward her room.
I ran after her, got there before she could lock the door. “Honey,” I said. She turned away from me and climbed up on her treasure chest, trying to open her window. I went to hug her. She ran out the door and into my bedroom. I followed and she tried to run out. I closed and blocked the door. She ran to the window, trying to open it to climb out. The window fan fell out. She scratched at the screen. I reached for her and she rolled over the bed and headed for the door. I got back to the door before she did. She ran into my bathroom, climbed up on the counter, trying to reach the windows. I lifted her off the counter and down to the floor. She ran to my window, started scratching the screen again. I grabbed her off of it. She started to punch herself in the head. I grabbed her arms. “I’m not gonna let you hurt yourself,” I said. She tried to jerk free. “Let’s talk,” I said. She hit herself again. I grabbed her again. “No,” I said. “I’m not gonna let you hurt yourself. You don’t deserve that. I wanna keep you safe.” She jerked away and headed for the door. I got there in time. She ran to the bathroom, started to climb up on the counter. I grabbed her, brought her over to the bed. “Let’s talk about it,” I said, laying her on the bed. She ran for the window. I grabbed her off the window. She started to hit herself again. I grabbed her arms. She tried to jerk free. She ran to the bathroom again, tried to close the door. I got there in time, pulled her down from the counter.
The struggle went on for 30 minutes. Finally I grabbed her and she went limp. “I can’t let you hurt yourself,” I said. She stayed limp in my arms.
She wiped her eyes. “Let’s go get a snack,” she said. “Do we have popcorn?”
I exhaled. “Yes, Honey, I’ll make you some popcorn.” And that was it.
Now I know what to do when she has a tantrum and tries to hurt herself. It’s not ideal but at least I know I can wear her down. She needs more than that, though.
I don’t know how we can prevent her tantrums. I’m hoping that sending her friend home once is enough for her to learn to stay with her friends on playdates. We won’t restrict her playdates unless they all end like this one. At least now when I threaten to send her friend home, she’ll know that I mean it. And for now, that has to be good enough.