I love my daughter and enjoy her company; she’s smart, affectionate, and frequently hilarious. That being said, I REALLY do not want to spend my Saturday afternoon playing Ana to her Elsa. I will if I have to, but the effort required to muster the demanded enthusiasm leaves me drained. Happily, there are some totally valid, unselfish reasons to get me off the hook – the biggest one probably being plain old social emotional development. For kids to learn how to interact with others, resolve disputes, and have a good time in the process they need to spend some time with their peers. Luckily, we have the option of arranging playdates with other kids. Especially during the winter months, when making a friend at the local playground isn’t frequently an option, playdates are a great way to keep our kids to entertained without losing our minds or dying of boredom in the process.
The Golden Rules
Keep to a reasonable, pre-determined, agreed upon time limit.
This should be age appropriate – an hour tops for babies, 2-3 max for toddlers and preschoolers. Decide and agree upon the details before you arrive. If it’s a drop-off playdate, be punctual for pick up.
If your child attends a playdate at a friend’s house, make sure you offer to host the next one.
Your household rules do not apply in someone else’s house, and every family does things differently. Unless you feel your child may be at risk, try to suspend judgement. If you do feel your child may be at risk, don’t arrange the playdate. In your own house, the rules are up to you. So if you are very sparing with screen time and a playmate arrives bearing a tablet, nothing wrong with holding it for her until the playdate is over. That being said, if you relax the rules temporarily you will not lose the kingdom; just use your better judgement.
Make sure you thank the host, and your child thanks the host. Offer to assist with clean up, with the kids’ help of course.
Snacks – offer but don’t insist
Unless your child has a food allergy or other dietary restriction, don’t send them with a snack. If your child does have limitations on what she can eat, definitely DO bring the snack, and bring enough to share. Establishing the habit of arriving for a visit with a small gift for the host isn’t such a bad idea – gluten-free pretzels today, a nice bottle of Malbec tomorrow.
Never a bad idea to have a few prepared options available, but committing to an intricate craft idea you found on Pinterest is a risky venture. You could spend hours setting it up and either have the kids burn through it in 10 minutes or decide they’d rather pretend to be dogs for 2 hours. Unstructured play is healthy, and in today’s world there is less and less of it. I like to set up a few DIY activity stations the kids can use or ignore, and keep a fun idea or two in my pocket as an emergency distraction. I have a shoebox of bits and clippings from wrapping paper, magazines, and crafty odds and ends; I have glue sticks, I have paper and markers – voila, it’s an art station. I have play dough. I have flashlights, and a blanket and kitchen chairs, which apparently make a much better fort than the ridiculous circus tent I bought thinking it would serve the same purpose.
Supervision – should be age appropriate
Babies obviously need to be watched very closely, but toddlers and preschoolers can be monitored from a safe distance. Stay nearby enough to know what’s going on and be able to intervene if necessary, but for the most part, just let the kids play. Isn’t the point here that you DON’T have to entertain your child?
TIP : prior to the playdate, check in with your child to decide what toys she does NOT want to share with her friend, then tuck those things away until after the playdate.
Offering to help clean up at pick up is good manners, but if your host declines the help, let it be. If you are the one hosting, a good idea is to enlist the help of the kids in cleaning up BEFORE the visiting kid’s parent arrives for pick up. This not only teaches good behavior, it also signals the impending pick up transition, which may make that transition go a little more smoothly. Unless your house has been utterly destroyed, or you are in a hurry to go somewhere and really don’t have time to clean up the remaining mess on your own, take care of it yourself. Remember, next week it’ll be someone else’s house that gets trashed.
Should I stay or should I go?
Under 3 years old? Stay.
First playdate? Stay.
Your child isn’t ready to be on her own? Stay.
Other than that, if the host suggests you take off, feel free. She might have a few things she’d like to get done while the kids play too. Just pick up on time and show your gratitude.
What if my child misbehaves?
It happens to EVERYONE. Even your perfectly-parented, well-adjusted little angel. It’s hard to hear, but try not to be defensive. This is information about how your child behaves when you aren’t in the room, and short of bugging your own house, how else can you get that?
What if someone else’s child misbehaves?
It’s not your place to discipline anyone else’s child, so leave that to her parents. If there’s a problem and you need to intervene, it’s fine to explain your house rules calmly and to separate fighting children so they can calm down. One really effective tactic is to divert their attention from the situation entirely – snack time beautifully serves this purpose, as well as taking care of any testy attitudes brought on by hunger. Then when the other parent arrives for pick up, go ahead and tattle – with respect, diplomacy and politeness. Pretending things went beautifully when they didn’t helps no one. Take the parent into another room (a.k.a. out of earshot) and let them know what happened. Try not to assign blame. Kids are just kids, and sometimes somebody gets bitten.
About the Author:
Laura Perras is a mom and Realtor who grew up in Needham, where she now works as part of the Perras Group at the William Raveis Needham office. In addition to mom-ing and selling houses, Laura enjoys djing, yoga, and arts and crafts. She’s involved in Parent Talk as Board CoChair of Marketing and Communications, Blog Coordinator, and Sale Committee Member. Please reach out if you would like to submit a post to the blog or have feedback or ideas regarding what you’d like to see here : Laura.Perras.Realtor@gmail.com