8 Tips For The Perfect Playdate
Bryony Sutherland investigates maintaining one’s composure when another child comes to play.
I’ve been a parent now for over a decade and I don’t think I can name a single mom friend who actively ‘enjoys’ playdates. They’re a recipe for so many potential disasters, especially when your child starts school and playdates involve visits from unfamiliar children, unaccompanied by their parents. Add a sibling or two into the mix and your house can become a minefield!
Here’s how to (hopefully) avoid utter meltdown:
Set a sensible time
The most common playdate occurs after school. Judge from your child (and also younger siblings) how long you can realistically expect him to entertain a guest before tiredness and crankiness come into play. For 4-6 year-olds I would normally finish a playdate after two hours, older children can last slightly longer – but you don’t want to eat into your family’s evening. Don’t be vague; arrange a clear time for the parents to collect their child so everyone knows where they stand.
Agree a menu in advance
Check if your child’s friend has any allergies or particular dislikes, and plan accordingly. While it might not be ideal to go gluten-free for a meal, it would be far worse to deal with unpleasant side effects. Always respect other people’s dietary choices and, whatever your stance may be on fussy eaters, this is not your battle. You’ll only make it hard on yourself by insisting on giving unwanted food to a guest.
Establish some ground rules beforehand
Discuss with your child exactly what you expect in terms of behaviour prior to the playdate. Picking on siblings to impress an outsider is unfair and, believe me, it’s tough to negotiate a peace treaty under an unfamiliar gaze. Set a limit on snacks and delineate any boundaries where the friends may not play (siblings’ bedrooms for example).
Hide favourite toys and precious items
So many times I have seen my son’s eyes welling up when a perfect stranger bounces into the room brandishing his beloved double-ended light sabre. It’s well worth doing a quick sweep in advance and placing treasured items well out of harm’s way. Do this for all your children, including the one who is expecting a guest.
Best-case sibling scenario
Your other children are likely to be jealous when their sibling has a friend to play, so make sure you keep playdates even by inviting their friends round too. It can work well for everyone to have a playdate at the same time, but this depends dramatically on the personalities involved, so do your research. Always have a few tricks up your sleeve to entertain siblings whose noses may be out of joint – some special individual time with mum can make all the difference.
It’s a shame to involve TV in a playdate, as essentially this is the time for socialising, so explain to your child beforehand that you don’t expect it to be switched on. However, be aware that a moderate dose of TV can calm down the most hyper of children (particularly the younger ones), so it’s not the end of the world if they sit in front of a DVD for 20 minutes before moving on to something more imaginative.
Dealing with disputes
If the playdate goes a bit pear-shaped, keep your cool and mediate if necessary. If you didn’t witness whatever caused the concern, explain to both children that the playdate will only last for a finite amount of time, so they should draw a line under their quarrel and make the best of it. If all else fails, call the child’s parent and explain what has happened, requesting an early finish. There’s no point in persevering with wilfully warring adversaries and it certainly won’t help the friendship.
To reciprocate or not to reciprocate?
Etiquette dictates that if your child attends a playdate then you should invite his friend back for a reciprocal visit. Only after your children are established mates does the ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality ease up. But be sensible. If the kids really don’t get along, there’s little point in returning hospitality for the sake of it – be brave and explain, the other mother should appreciate your honesty.