Positive relationships with peers can help boost kids’ self-esteem and happiness levels. They may also lower the risk of depression and anxiety. Children who are more open to others tend to become kinder, more empathetic people. Additionally, childhood relationships affect the quality of friendships later in life, as well as romantic and work relationships.

All children have a unique set of strengths and differences. Some children may talk or interact in different ways than your child. This could be caused by many factors, including:

  • Cultural background
  • Family values or
  • Symptoms of autism, ADHD or learning differences

Giving children opportunities to spend time with others who are different from them can build new experiences, perspectives and friendships. It also helps children build the skills needed to interact successfully with a diverse population.

How Do I Talk to My Child About Social Differences?

Explain to your child that not everybody communicates or plays in the same way. For example, some children may not look at you when they talk. Some may prefer to play with just one toy for an extended time. These differences do not make someone a bad friend. Learning about these differences can help children become more inclusive.

How Can I Make Playdates More Inclusive?

Try these five ideas to make your child’s playdates more inclusive to children with a diverse set of needs: 

  1. Do your research. Talk to the parent/guardian to find a few activities their child enjoys. Try to find at least two or three interests they have in common with your child, whether it’s playing Legos, making crafts, riding bikes or something else. Ask the other parent if there is anything specific that helps social gatherings go smoothly for their child.
  2. Plan ahead. Map out simple activities for the children to keep them busy. Don’t leave much unstructured time when they’re together for the first time. Prepare for a snack break in case the kids get tired of what they’re doing and need to shift gears. Be sure to check with the child’s parent/guardian about any dietary restrictions.
  3. Consider your environment. Many children benefit from an environment that is not too loud, bright or crowded. For example, if a child is easily overwhelmed in crowded settings, it may be better to play at home rather than go to the park. Again, talk to the family to see what is most helpful for their child.
  4. Invite the parent/caregiver. Ask the parent or caregiver to stay for the playdate. The two of you can chat while keeping an eye on the kids, and they can help support their child if needed.
  5. End on a high note. All children need breaks, and some children may only be able to play for an hour or two at a time. Be sure to end the playdate while both children are still having fun. 

VIDEO: Insights from an Autism Parent

As a parent, having a child with an autism spectrum disorder brings some unique challenges in everyday life. The more we talk about autism and bring awareness to it, the more it helps us learn how to interact with these children and become advocates. The more we know, the more we can advocate.