Illustration for article titled How To Help Your Young Child Deal With An Unreliable FriendPhoto: Dubova (Shutterstock)

It can be disappointing for any of us when a friend cancels plans at the last minute, but for a kid looking forward to a play date or fun activity with a favorite friend, the pain of canceled plans subsides deeply. Especially after so many months of isolation, any plan involving other people outside of their home is like a beacon of joy to a young child. Everyone has to cancel plans from time to time, but if you find plans with a certain friend are getting canceled more frequently, you are likely to have a frustrated – if not devastated – child on your hands.

Dealing with the occasional disappointment over canceled fun is a part of life. But if one of your friends becomes downright unreliable, it is probably time to put in some boundaries and buffers. As someone who has dealt with my own son’s unreliable friends (or rather, their unreliable parents) for years, we’ve come up with the strategies here to minimize lingering disappointment without severing ties entirely.

Look for the patterns

The thing about young children is that they are only as reliable as their parents when it comes to putting plans into action. You may want to go to the zoo as much as your child, but when their parents suddenly double-booked or don’t feel ready anymore, they’re just as helpless as the rest of us. However, there are times when patterns emerge of what activities they are actually doing and what things are more likely to get canceled.

It is possible that 90 percent of the time you plan to do something early in the morning, someone in the Bradford family will oversleep and you will receive this cancellation text message five minutes before your departure. On the other hand, you might find that tickets for something appear every time you buy it. Look for the patterns in their behavior and make plans accordingly. Being more strategic when you say yes may be all it takes to contain the problem.

Help meet your child’s expectations

If you’ve noticed that one of your friends is constantly canceling them, surely your child has noticed too. However, that doesn’t stop her always hoping that this time when her boyfriend’s parents say they’re going to take him to Coney Island, they’re really serious. If you’re not sure if it’s really going to happen, there are several different ways you can use to keep your own expectations in check.

G / O Media can receive a commission

When my son was around three to five years old, I just wouldn’t tell him when I’d made plans with his scaly friends. As soon as I got the text message saying they were ready to go, I would “surprise” my son with a fun outing. He would appreciate the occasional “change” in plans for the day, and I avoided crushing him unnecessarily.

But when the children are old enough to be aware of the plans, precisely one cannot keep them a secret from them. If so, you should be aware that while the plans are fun, we should remember that sometimes they fail – and if so, what more could we do that day? You could say something like, “Oh wow, Coney Island sounds like so much fun. I hope the weather cooperates and everyone can go! If not, a family movie date with popcorn might be appropriate. “That way, when they fall like a hot potato, the seed has already been planted for this to happen, and you can move to Plan B more easily.

Be direct with the parents

And finally – and probably most importantly – a person who earned a last-minute reputation for canceling plans is a person who will continue to cancel plans in the future. If your child isn’t a close friend, the friendship can fall apart on its own over time. But if this is a good friend that they want to keep hanging out with, the real solution is to be right with their parents. You don’t have to be combative, but you can be curious.

They can say that you’ve noticed they’ve had to cancel a lot lately and ask if there’s an underlying cause you should know about, whether or not it’s the kid who never really wants to leave it is simply because of a lack of organization or a hectic family life. Once you know that the child is invested in the relationship, you can make it clear that you are ready to consider them and their schedules as much as possible, but the number of game dates or trips you will be doing may help to call back Plan together to reduce cancellations and prioritize the plans you create.