Playdates can be stressful for parents even if they are fun for children and they can really help kids with their socialization skills. Once you drop off your child at a friend’s house, you can’t control what they will be exposed to. Even when you are the one hosting the play date, the whole idea is for the kids to play independently, and you have to be careful to supervise but not interfere. You also need to be respectful of special requests made by other parents, especially when it comes to food allergies and dietary restrictions.
After arranging dozens of playdates for my two children, who are now 8 and 11, I’ve learned that sometimes you need to just let go and understand you cannot control what your child is exposed to outside of your home and family environment. The way I frame it with my kids is that since they will be playing with their friends, they can relax a bit and enjoy their free time, but once they come back home, we’re back to the same rules and expectations as always.
You need to give them tools so they can make informed decisions when you’re not hovering over their shoulder, whether it comes to screen time, candy or junk food in general. It’s always best to explain to kids why in your home you have certain rules (for example: we don’t eat candy unless it’s a special occasion because we want to prevent cavities; we don’t sit all day at the computer or watching TV because it’s more fun to play outside and it’s much healthier anyway). That being said, you do need to explain that every family has its own rules or customs and that we always need to be respectful of others.
Since my son is in the preteen phase, I am actually more concerned about what he might be exposed to when it comes to the Internet or violent video games that are not allowed at home. Many parents I know do not even bother with parental restrictions on tablets, computers, or mobile phones. How do I deal with that? I talk to my son about why we don’t allow certain things at home, what my concerns are and ensuring he knows he can tell me if he saw or heard something at a friend’s house that made him uncomfortable.
On the other hand, when my kids’ friends come over, I am aware that our rules might be different, and I am extra careful about disciplining other children. I only had to call a mom once when her son was being extremely disrespectful and refused to stop teasing my daughter. Tread lightly because you might be surprised at the other parent’s reaction when you call them to explain the situation.
Here are 6 more tips for navigating a successful playdate:
1. Get to know your child’s friend and his/her parents
I always recommend speaking to the parents and getting to know them before your child visits their home. That way you can get a sense of the environment where your kids will be playing. And as obvious as this may seem, have the other parent’s contact information handy!
2. When uncomfortable, host the playdate
If you don’t know the parents well, you can always have the first playdates at your home where you can control the environment and see how the children interact with each other. This also is helpful if your little one has issues with transitions or gets anxious when going to an unknown place.
3. If your kid has dietary restrictions or food allergies, offer to send snacks that he or she can eat
Explain why your child is or isn’t allowed to eat certain things, so it’s clear it’s not being picky about something. If you’re concerned about a sugar overload when your child visits other homes, refrain from telling the parent what to offer them as snacks unless asked.
4. Schedule the playdate on the weekend
Unless your child is a preschooler, avoid scheduling playdates during the week, when any change in your kid’s routine can interfere with homework or his routine.
5. Provide some structure when organizing the playdate
Although you should supervise playdates, you should interfere minimally, but that doesn’t mean having kids do whatever they want. There’s nothing wrong with setting limits from the beginning and explaining to them how much time they have to play or what is allowed (and isn’t) in your home. Also, it’s a great idea to suggest a project or a game to break the ice.
6. Have a plan in case things don’t go as expected
Sometimes kids are having an off day, and the playdate ends up not being fun at all for any of the children. If they are playing at your house, suggest a snack break, or change the activity or game they are playing. If your child calls you from her or his friend’s house, listen carefully to figure out whether you should pick her or him up earlier than planned.
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