Do's and Don't's for Playdates
Inviting a child over to play or taking your son or daughter to play with a friend is supposed to be a relaxed, fun time for everyone. Mums are supposed to sit in the kitchen sipping coffee – or nip out to the shops – while little Milo and Max play nicely together, sharing toys and playing creative make-believe games.
The reality, however, is often far from that. Playdates, especially with young children, often end up with the kids bickering over toys and the mums squabbling over methods of discipline. If you want to have a happy, relaxed playdate, take some tips from us.
Proper Playdate Protocol
Playdates can run smoothly if you follow these rules:
- Be prompt to pick up. Everyone knows working mums have little time, but nobody appreciates a mum who uses the invitation as a way to get a complete mani/pedi, her roots touched up and full highlights.
- Keep it relatively short. This is especially vital if this is the first playdate between your children, as you have no idea how it's going to turn out. If it all goes pear-shaped, at least you know it's only for an hour and a half.
- Invite parents, if necessary. If Melissa's mummy says she gets tearful and clingy without her, believe her. The last thing you want is a sobbing, frantic child crying out for her mum all afternoon.
- Avoid tearful goodbyes. Parting can be such sweet sorrow – especially with toddlers. Give them a five-minute warning and present them with a tiny souvenir (bribe) upon departure.
Tips for Little Ones (Toddlers - Age 5)
Toddlers and slightly older kids usually love having playdates, although often they need their mummies to accompany them. If they are coming by themselves, make sure their mums don't object to your disciplining them, if need be. You don't want Helena's mummy yelling at you because you had the audacity to stop her precious cherub from pulling the puppy's tail and sticking a cracker down the baby's throat...
- Find out about food likes, dislikes and allergies. Small children are often too young to vocalise their needs. This could make an unwanted trip to A & E unnecessary.
- Let your child take the initiative. Whether the playdate's at your house or a friend's, let the children take the lead. If you pressure them into participating in an activity they dislike, it will only backfire.
- Three's a crowd. One-on-one action is usually best. Inviting two children over often descends into two ganging up against one.
- A snack goes a long way. Fatigue and hunger are often the two biggest melt-down culprits. Having a snack on hand can make tantrums less likely.
- Plan an activity in advance. When they run out of things to do or start getting fractious, having a new colouring book on hand can be a lifesaver.
Older Kids (Age Five - 10)
When kids are a bit older their arguing and bickering can take a more sinister turn. While they can play largely unsupervised, they still may need you to step in from time to time. The trick is to keep it light and let them feel they are having as much freedom as possible...
- Don't get too involved in squabbles. Try not to stay involved unless you really have to. It's always better if they sort out their own problems.
- Keep siblings out of the way. Too often impressionable children are more interested in making friends with an older sibling or a younger, cuter one than the kid they came originally to play with. Avoid jealousy and tears by keeping siblings occupied elsewhere.
- Enforce rules. If you say no, stick to it. Older children in particular can be manipulative, and you have no idea what they get away with at home. Be firm but fair from the start, and enforce your house rules.
- If you really don't want your child jumping on Tristan's trampoline or playing with his pit bull, either make him stay home or tell Tristan's mum - if you trust her. It's no good entrusting your eight-year-old not to partake in his heart's desire. And peer pressure can often win out.
- Use telly/computer games/Nintendos/Gameboys as a last resort. It's better if they can amuse themselves for as long as possible.
Having a pleasant playdate is easy to accomplish – with a little advance planning and a dab of ingenuity and creativity. One of the most important things is to learn from the experience. If it doesn't work out with little Imogen, resist the urge to invite her over next time. Avoid the fights/squabbles/fingerpaint all over the walls and stick to placid little Tiffany instead. That way, everyone's happy – especially you!
If your kids are going to a friend's home, teach them proper etiquette and impress upon them the need to care and share. Don't send them if they're ill, pick them up on time and be suitably grateful to the host. And if all goes well, make sure a return invitation is in the offing.