It can be disappointing for any of us when a friend cancels plans at the last minute, but for a child who is looking forward to a play date or a fun activity with a favourite friend, the pain of cancelled plans cuts deep. Especially after so many months of isolation, any plan that involves other people outside of their home is like a beacon of joy for a young child. Everyone has to cancel plans from time to time, but if you notice that plans with one friend in particular seem to be cancelled more often than not, you’ve probably got a frustrated — if not devastated — child on your hands.
Dealing with the occasional disappointment over cancelled fun is a part of life. But when one of their friends becomes downright unreliable, it’s probably time to put some boundaries and buffers in place. As someone who dealt with my own son’s unreliable friends (or rather, their unreliable parents) for years, here are the strategies that worked for us to minimise the continuous disappointment without cutting ties completely.
Look for the patterns
The thing about little kids is that they’re only as reliable as their parents when it comes to following through with plans. They may want to go to the zoo just as much as your kid, but if their parent suddenly is double-booked or not feeling up to it yet again, they are as helpless as the rest of us. But you may begin to see patterns emerge on what activities they actually make and which things are more likely to be cancelled.
It could be that 90 per cent of the time you make plans to do something early in the morning, someone in the Bradford family is going to oversleep and you’re going to get that cancelation text message five minutes before you were about to leave the house. On the other hand, maybe you’re able to determine that if you buy tickets to something, they’re going to show up every time. Look for the patterns in their behaviour and make plans accordingly. Being more strategic about when you say yes may be all you need to curb the problem.
Help manage your child’s expectations
If you’ve noticed one of their buddies is cancelling on them all the time, your child has surely noticed, too. Still, that won’t stop them from being ever-hopeful that this time, when their friend’s parents say they going to take him along with them to Coney Island, they really mean it. If you’re dubious that it’s really going to happen, there are a couple of ways to help them keep their own expectations in check.
When my son was about three to five years old, I simply wouldn’t tell him when I’d made plans with his flaky friends. Once I got the text message day-of that indicated they were getting ready to leave, I’d “surprise” my son with a fun outing. He’d be delighted at the occasional “change” of plans for the day, and I avoided crushing him unnecessarily plenty of other times.
But once the kids are old enough to be aware of the plans, you can’t exactly keep it a secret from them. In this case, acknowledge that while the plans sound fun, we should remember that sometimes they do fall through — and if they do, what else could we do that day? You might say something like, “Oh wow, Coney Island sounds like so much fun. I hope the weather cooperates and everyone is able to go! If not, a family movie date with some popcorn might be in order.” That way, if they do end up dropping like a hot potato, the seed has already been planted that it might happen and you can more easily pivot to Plan B.
Be direct with the parents
And finally — and probably most importantly — a person who has developed a reputation for cancelling plans at the last minute is a person who is going to keep cancelling plans in the future. If it isn’t a close friend of your child’s, the friendship may naturally fizzle out on its own over time. But if this is a good friend they want to continue to spend time with, the real solution is to be direct with their parents. You don’t have to be combative about it, but you can be curious.
You can say you’ve noticed they’ve had to cancel a lot recently and ask whether there is any underlying cause that you should know about, whether it’s that the kid is the one who never really wants to go or whether it’s simply because of a lack of organisation or a hectic family life. Once you know the child is invested in the relationship, you can make it clear that you’re willing to accommodate them and their schedules as much as you can, but that it might be helpful to dial back the amount of play dates or outings you plan together to mitigate the number of cancelations and prioritise the plans you do make.