Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of the dreaded “play date,” you know the score: it involves at least two children, one of them your own, and an infinite amount of patience. It also includes, at the best of times, nerves of steel and – if you’re smart – ear plugs.
Play dates are part and parcel of being a parent. They are both a rite of passage as well as a badge of honor – that is, if you make it through the said date unscathed. They can definitely be trying and patience is truly a virtue when navigating the world of dress-up and make-believe. Done well, play dates will provide lasting memories as well as friendships for not only the children, but sometimes the parents of the little ones as well. Done poorly, well, let’s just say that legal action may be required.
That being said, there are some tried and true strategies for getting through these events relatively unscathed. As a matter of fact, done well, play dates may just be your little bit of relief in an otherwise hectic and crazy day. Why, you ask? Because having your child entertained by a similarly-aged playmate for a couple of hours isn’t that bad of an event, after all. I’ve written about play date pressures before and talked about some of the challenges in coordinating these meetings. I’ve also discussed some of the more ridiculous end results that have occurred by over-zealous parents when it came to coordinating get-togethers for their children.
A few hours of fun and games for the kids shouldn’t become a major undertaking. It should, after all, be about fun and games for the kids and hopefully a bit of relief for you, as the parent. You can get through a play date and survive – you really can! You just need to be prepared.
Without further ado, here are The Top 10 Tips For Surviving Play Dates:
1) Know Thy Enemy – Implement a journalistic strategy and get to work: know the who, what, where, when and why of the play date. Who is the playmate and who are the parents of this child? What are the kids going to do during their time together? Where will the play date occur? Will it be at your house, or at the home of the playmate, or neither? When will the fun begin? Will the visit be for a few hours or all day (gulp)? Why this particular playmate? Are they your child’s new best friend? If so, go back to the who and get to know both the parents and the child so that you’re all comfortable with this new friendship
2) Case the Joint – As parents, we’re responsible for our children’s well-being whether they’re physically with us or not. To this end, we’d be remiss if we didn’t fully investigate the surroundings of our child’s visit to their friend’s home. Know where your child is going for the play date, and if necessary, check it out yourself. Better that you’re comfortable sending your child away for a few hours than not. You’re well within your rights as a parent to want to know where your child is going so don’t be shy about checking out the scene before your child has the actual play date.
3) Ground Rules – Whether you’re hosting or sending your kid off for a few hours of play, rules are rules. Make sure that these are known and agreed-upon with the other parent as well as your child. These include how long the play date will be, where it will occur, will food be served and if so, are there any dietary/allergy-related items that need to be addressed, who is doing pickup and drop-off of the attending child, etc. Making sure that everyone’s on the same page before the play date starts will assure that there are less troubles later.
4) Plan B – What if things don’t work out? What if little Aiden gets into a fight with little Lucas and no longer wants to be little Lucas’ friend? If this is the case, you have to be prepared to pick up your child or send home the “offending” child sooner than later. Make sure you have this contingency plan in place before you say goodbye to the visiting child’s parents at the start of the visit.
5) Food, Glorious Food – What are you going to serve the little ones? Are there allergies or dietary requirements to consider? How much is too much? Can the kids gorge out on chocolate and soft drinks for the duration of the visit? These are all questions that need to be considered and answered before the playdate starts. After all, you don’t want any surprises, e.g. your sweet little child coming home and promptly throwing up after a few hours of chowing down on goodies. Even worse, you don’t want to have to be the cause of an extreme allergic reaction by a visiting child due to lack of planning or discussion with the child’s parents in advance.
6) Three’s a Crowd – Remember: it’s a lot easier to maintain order if you have a smaller group of kids as part of a gathering. If you’re the host of a planned play date, don’t let the numbers exceed three children. Frankly, I like to have two children maximum, as three invites issues of one child being left out and four is verging on “party” status. Two is just fine, thank-you very much. Two children - one of them yours – are so much easier to control.
7) Being There – Hosting a play date, or sending your child off to one doesn’t mean that you are completely exonerated of your parenting duties. While you might have the urge to completely check out while the kids are playing (either at your home or at the playmate’s home), remember that you are still a parent and accordingly, should be there for your child. Sometimes kids just want to know that you’re available, either in the next room, or via telephone or via text, email or otherwise. If the play date is in your home, make yourself scarce yet available – yes, it sounds contradictory, but it can be done. Be downstairs while the kids are in the bedroom but let them know that you’re there and that they can come to you if need be. Similarly, if you’re sending your child off to a play date, let them know that you will be available if they would like to call or text you, and that you can come and pick them up at a moment’s notice, if the child is uncomfortable. Children thrive on knowing that their parents are there for them. So be there, in one way or another.
8) Neutral Ground – Children are possessive, particularly so on their own turf. We’re talking toys, video games, computers and anything else that they’ve left their “scent” upon. When another child threatens to play with their stuff, they often become like protective mama bears with their items, and many an argument has resulted from a play date where the visiting child had the “nerve” to touch Johnny’s favorite toy. Avoid this scenario all together by considering hosting the play date on neutral ground. This could mean at an indoor playground, a movie theater (take the kids) or a playground. By doing this, you’ve eliminated a possible cause of tension between the kids and given them one less reason to fight – and ruin the playdate altogether.
9) Old-School Play – Technology is great – I’m the first to admit this fact. Even so, we’re losing some of our interactive skills because of its prevalence. This is particularly the case with kids: Television, video games, XBox consoles and the latest computer/online fad is enough to keep our kids glued to a screen or monitor, one way or another. Sure, it’s fun, but during a play date, it’s best to downplay the digital aspect of play, at least for the short time that your child is interacting with another. Why you may ask? Well, we all know how mesmerized our children can become within a few short moments of starting a digitally-based game. It’s all fine and dandy sometimes, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to facilitate solid friendships as well as social interaction when agreeing to a play date. For these reasons alone, it’s best to put a limit on the tech-based games and perhaps have the kids interact in a more conventional way.
10) Mind Your Ps and Qs – Kids need to be reminded that regardless of the situation, it’s always a good idea to be on their best behaviour. Minding one’s manners is good etiquette and it’s never too early to teach children this fact. This is particularly the case when visiting a friend’s home, as well as being a courteous host when having someone to our home. Make sure that your kids are primed to remember to say “please,” “thank-you” and to mind their manners when attending a play date.
So there it is – some basic rules for getting through the myriad of play dates that are likely part and parcel of your child’s life. Follow the above tips and you and your child will be ready to go!
What additional tips do you have for navigating the world of playdates? Please share in the comments below.
**And if your play dates are still nightmarish despite following all of the above advice, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone! Read Bad Playdate for some hilarious examples of play dates gone wrong!**
**If it’s all about scheduling the play dates for your kids, check out Playdate Planet to help you get organized**
VIDEO: Tips For Surviving Play Dates
IMAGE: Knuckles Down by Norman Rockwell September 2, 1939 © 1939 SEPS. Reprinted courtesy of http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com