Managing and coordinating our kids’ social lives can feel like a full time job, especially if our children have special needs. I’ve become a bit of an expert in the field of special needs social activities—my son has a restrictive diet that, if not followed, can be dangerous to his health.
Play dates can be a great way to socialize outside of school and extracurricular activities, but they can be stressful even for the most well adjusted parents and children. Throw some special needs into the mix and you may feel like you want to run home and live under the bed.
Take “snacktivities.” It’s just that, eating a snack, and it’s one of the most common play date activities. Yet many children with special need have allergies or sensitivities to common snack foods such as nuts, gluten (crackers, bread), fruits, dyes and other additives. Do we cancel the play date to avoid uncomfortable food situations?
We do not. Instead, we’ve learned strategies so we can benefit from the social perks of play dates. No need to let food get in our way. Here’s how we handle it—and how you can too.
Play date 101
Contact the other parent if your child (or you) expresses an interest in the other child. Try to set up the play date in advance and figure out where it’s best to meet and if someone should accompany the child (yourself or a childcare giver). For an optimal meet up, it’s best to try to make sure that the outing is not at a time when you know the kids will be tired or irritable.
Once the play date is set up at a mutually convenient time, it’s time to discuss what will go on when they are together. Discuss your child’s needs with the parents. It may not be necessary to share all your personal information, simply that there are some food issues and you are wondering if there will be food at the play date? If there are concerns about the items they will be offering, suggest that you can bring a special treat for them so you don’t put pressure on the parent to make something and you have control over what your child eats. You may be surprised at how understanding and accommodating other parents can be.
You can also request to have the kids eat snacks before the play date so food is not an issue at all. If snack or meal time falls during the time of the play date, however, here are some suggestions on how to deal:
1. Plan a fun activity in advance
Arts and crafts, building a fort, and playing dress up are all great ways to socialize kids and keep the snacking to a minimum at the same time. Alternatively, the project could actually be preparation of a snack that both/all kids can eat.
2. Consider a special location
If the kids are at a destination play date like the park or the zoo, even better! Outside of the home there will be less of a chance for food to be the focus of the play date. If a little snack is necessary, you can pack up something special for everyone in advance that is appropriate.
After the play date, find out if there were any glitches or complications. If so, you can always plan for the next time.
Taking the time to iron out the food bumps may allow for your kids to take part in one of the most important social and educational activities of childhood. A little effort and preparation go a long way!
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