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Playdates are a great opportunity for your kindergartner to work on her social skills, but they require patience and conscientiousness on your part to run smoothly. When your youngster yanks a Barbie away from her playmate, resist the urge to lecture, take the doll away, give her a time-out, or send her 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 child learns nothing about how to get along in the future. Besides, if she hears enough reprimands, she'll start to tune them out. Instead, take a positive approach, one that encourages her to think for herself and sets the stage for problem-solving in the future.
When your kindergartner grabs a toy, refuses to share, or yells at or hits her buddy, ask her, "Do you think that makes Natalie feel happy or sad?" (You may need to wait until both children have calmed down before you start this dialogue — and you'll also need to investigate what started the fracas in the first place.) By helping your child acknowledge her pal's injured feelings and encouraging her sense of empathy, you'll teach her to choose options with positive consequences for herself and her friends. The goal, of course, is for her to refrain from lashing out not because she's afraid of getting in trouble, but because she 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 have to have a time-out"), but something along the lines of "Natalie might not like me," or "Natalie won't want to come over anymore." Next ask her, "How would you feel if that happened?" This lets your kindergartener know that her feelings are important, too. Finally, encourage her to do some problem solving by asking, "What can you do or say that's different from what you're doing now?" Kids are often eager to come up with solutions on their own, and she might offer to let Natalie play with her new Barbie while she busies herself with her old one. When she figures out a workable compromise, tell her "Good thinking" rather than "Good idea," to reinforce that she thinks, not what she thinks.
Handle the situation the same way when your visitor does the instigating. Ask her how she thinks your child feels, what she thinks might happen next, how that would make her feel, and what she 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 her 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?"