7 Playdate Tips and Ideas
PLAY-DATE (noun): a time that parents arrange for their young children to play together
The definition seems so simple! You email another parent, you set up a time to play, and voila – playdate! What I’m learning, however, is that playdates are complicated. I mean, even the word “playdate” is complicated. How many times have you written the subject line of an email as “Play Date”and then deleted and tried “Playdate” instead (only to reverse it again?) I’m positive I’m not the only mom who has wondered what the “right” spelling is.
This is my first year of “real” playdates…like playdates where they are really for the kids to play and not for the moms to just hang out and chat (although that’s still ok with me too!). I’ll be honest. When I’m done hosting one I feel like I need to dunk myself in a hot bath with a box-o-wine within arms reach. For me, they kind of feel like running a marathon, jumping through circus hoops, and feeding a pack of hungry wolves all at the same time. I’m still a total newbie, but if you’re looking for some basics to get you by, here are some playdate tips that might help:
1. Transportation. If we have a friend visiting after school, I need to have a safe means of transportation for them. My first playdate mistake was not having an extra booster seat on hand and making the mom of the other child do double-duty to get her daughter to our house after school. Oh, did I mention that this mom works overnight shifts, and is totally sleep deprived, and really could have used the extra 20 minutes of rest instead of having to bring her daughter to our house because I didn’t have an extra seat? I bought one super fast!
2. Snacks. Consider which snacks you’ll offer ahead of time. If your child is like mine, they’ll be tempted to push their limits when their friends are around and start pulling out the cookies and asking for things usually considered treats. I learned quickly to select snacks the morning of the playdate with my daughter. That way she feels like she’s getting what she wants, I can veto any unhealthy choices and we limit the need to go digging in the pantry. Also, if you have the set-up you might even consider having a mini fridge in the playroom that’s stocked with healthy snacks. With this handy convenience you’ll avoid the constant back and forth of taking orders like a waitress at a roadside diner (we haven’t purchased one yet…but you bet it’s on the list!). You could also make a playdate activity out making snacks together. Just be sure to know about any allergies in advance.
3. Animals. We have two dogs. They’re totally harmless, but TERRIFYING to 5 year olds who aren’t used to being around them. I’ve learned to check in advance about how the visiting child feels about animals, and to make proper arrangements if they are afraid. Additionally, I spend some time up front talking about the rules of interacting with our dogs (and generally try to keep the kids and dogs separated when I’m not actually in the room with them all). You might have the coolest pets on the planet, but better safe than sorry.
4. Activities. Why wouldn’t two kindergartners know how to entertain themselves without so much as a hiccup for 2+ hours? (Sarcasm fully intended) My daughter happens to really like it when other kids play her games and by her rules…but isn’t so accommodating otherwise. I’ve figured out how to gently recommend activities, get them started and then quietly bow out until the next intervention is needed. I’ve also begun collecting an arsenal of back-up crafts in case other games aren’t working out. However, be warned: over-planning activities can backfire and it’s often a waste of time/effort on your part because the kids are just so excited to be with each other that sitting down for a structured activity is like asking a jumping bean not to jump.
5. Hovering vs. Independence. At 5 and 6 years old, playdates are really opportunities for our children to learn communication and social skills, and they’re likely to learn more without constant hovering from mom or dad. I’ve found that I actually create worse behavior when I remind my daughter of the rules in front of her friends, and that she becomes easily embarrassed and frustrated. It seems redirecting is much more effective than repeatedly reinforcing the rules (i.e., no slamming doors, no jumping off the top bunk, no saying unkind things to each other, etc.). When I hear or see behavior that is going in a bad direction, I will come in, sit at their eye level and say something like “I hear you play penguins in gym class? That sounds fun…how do you do it?” It’s not always fail-proof, but it gets a better result than micro-managing the playdate.
6. Speaking of Rules. Every household is bound to have different rules, and you can bet money that your children will come home telling you about the rules they didn’t have to live by when they had a playdate at so-and-so’s-house. While I’m not quite there yet, I have also heard moms discuss the need to address “technology and device policies” so that everyone is clear on which homes are open to nonstop PlayStation and which ones aren’t. This will be yet one more phase of parenthood where you will need to feel confident in the decisions you have made as a parent and stick by them.
7. Under Pressure. Now this is the tough one, because I think all moms tend to see the actions of their children as some reflection on their ability to parent. We’re faced with so much judgement and pressure from the moment we become pregnant that by the time we’re at playdate stage it’s practically a knee-jerk reaction to feel like your child’s difficulty with making it through a playdate without some sort of tantrum is a direct result of your choice not to co-sleep or because you let your child watch too much TV. Here is where we owe it to ourselves to remember the essence of what a playdate really is – for the kids to HAVE FUN. Playdates are really not about the parents at all and that is one of the hardest things to remember!
At the end of the day, I try to think back to the playdates I had as a child and what made them special. They generally involved a lot of running outside, little structured activity, warm chocolate chip cookies and a mom who was ready with the band-aids when we needed them. That’s it!