Play dates are an essential part of the development of children’s social skills. While on a play date, a child can learn either how to host or how to be a guest. When your child is a baby and throughout the toddler years, the parent is in charge of scheduling these get-togethers and choosing friends. But as your child gets older, they will make their own friends at school, and you will be sending them to friends; houses of to the home of people whom you may only know though school functions. This is when a child begins their journey to independence, so giving them a healthy social foundation early on is vital to help them understand how to be a good friend.
When your child goes on a play date, always find out who will be watching the children. Obviously, a parent or caregiver will be there when they are very small, but as they get older, things become a little trickier. There have been countless articles demonizing the helicopter parent, and while you don’t have to track your child’s every move, you should be aware of who will be at the home they are visiting. One questions worth asking is whether the hosting child has any older siblings. I say this from experience, as a few years ago, an email was sent around about my youngest son’s class about an inappropriate video game being played on a play date; the game was suitable for ages thirteen and over, and the children who played it were only six years old at the time. Many parents replied to the email in horror, myself included, agreeing that such a game should have been put away, out of reach from the youngest children. Future emails flew back and forth, and I quickly realized that the house they were talking about was mine and that my young son was the culprit!
I was mortified and immediately send out my apologies. When you have a big family with children of different ages, you tend to host numerous playdates, and there will inevitably be some overlap. But the incident taught me an important lesson, and my older boys’ video games are now stored safely away from my youngest. This is why I like to be aware of what my children will be up to at play dates.
With this in mind, when you’re hosting a play date you might want to contact the parent in advance, to ask them if watching a certain movie or playing a video game is okay with them. Some parents can also be picky about the food their children ear, and that’s fine, ask them what they feel comfortable with, and this usually avoids any problems further down the line. After hosting two decades worth of playdates – and still hosting them as I write this! – I have established some house rules for scheduling, hosting and sending my children on them.
COMMUNICATE WITH PARENTS
When your child is old enough to be dropped off for a play date, set a timeline – when to drop off and pick up. If hosting, limit how many children get together. I favor a total of two or four, as three can leave an odd one out
When your child is hosting a play date for the first time, make sure you explain that other children will be in their house and that those other children will be playing with their toys. (if there are toys that are special to your child, it’s okay to put those away before the play date arrives.) This can be difficult for young children to accept, but is the ideal experience for teaching them to share. The more you prepare your child, the more fun it will be for them. If you feel your child may struggle, consider doing some role play to teach them how to act when they host a friend.
My children have been taught to ask me if it’s okay before they accept a play date or have one in the house. Once they mention the play date, I always check with the other parent to set up a time for pick up. If I’m running behind for any reason, I will always text the parent, and I expect the same courtesy when I am the host. Communication costs nothing, and staying in touch avoids any potential anxiety on the part of the child, parent or both.
Older children often prefer to go to a house where there is less parental guidance, which means they won’t be monitored when they play video games or surf the web. Make sure you are aware of who is at home in the house after school. Although the parents might be responsible people, it’s hard to keep an eye on older child who is allowed to be home unsupervised or is watched by a teenage sibling or nanny until the parents return home from work later in the day.
I have noticed that some of our children’s friends – especially those who are regular visitors to our home – seem comfortable opening our kitchen cabinets and helping themselves to food. They will also turn on the TV. While I love that they feel so comfortable in my own, I do expect, and find it polite for, children to ask permission before they open drawers or use anything in the house.
I once came home to find one of children’s friends happily tuckering into a bowl of my favorite homemade Greek meatballs, which I have been looking forward to eating all day. If you’re a parent of older kids, you have no doubt had similar experiences. This led me to have a family discussion on friends, play dates, and boundaries. Friends of my children can help themselves to the designated play-date snack tray in the kitchen or pantry, but they should really ask before they help themselves to anything in the refrigerator. Placing food that is okay to share in a designated section of your pantry helps avoid any awkward discussion on what your child is allowed to offer their friends.
We’ve all walked into a child’s room an hour into a play date only to see that every single toy has been removed from the shelf and scattered across that floor. If the children make a mess, they should be taught to put the toys away. I want my children to clean up whatever mess they make at home (doubly so at someone else’s house!), and I want them to work with their friends to tidy up. If the children are babies and toddlers, the parent accompanying the child should offer to help clear up toys.
FIVE GOLDEN RULES FOR A PLAY DATE:
1. Don’t schedule too far in advance: a week or less is fine, and even an impromptu last minute play date is okay (though bear in mind that it may not be convenient for the other party).
2. Always be on time for pick up and drop off.
3. When your child is older, they are the guest not you, so you shouldn’t linger. Unless invited, don’t stay.
4.Always thank the person who hosted (a text message thanking them in fine.) Similarly, make sure your child knows to say “Thank you for having me” when leaving.
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