by Cheryl Butler
When my older children (who are now teenagers) would ask to have play dates at our house, instead of being excited that they wanted to have their friends over for some fun playtime, I would secretly cringe, hoping they would forget all about it. I equated play dates to work, not fun.
Since then, however, I learned a few tips that have allowed me to embrace the entire play date scene, and now I do get excited when my younger kids ask. Here are some tips to make playdates less work and more...well...play!
Before the Play Date
Invite one of your child’s friends. Listen to who your child talks about on a regular basis and ask him questions about who he enjoys hanging out with at daycare or school. One-on-one play dates are best for developing close friendships and teaching skills such as sharing and turn taking.
Keep the get-together short. Between one and two hours is more than enough time for younger children (and for you!).
Be specific about a time and date when organizing a play date. Many moms make the mistake of saying, “We should set up a play date.” People get busy so if you offer a specific date and time, it’s more likely to happen. Also, be specific about the drop off and pick up time so that it is not open ended.
Avoid mealtimes at first. The best times to schedule a new play date are mid-mornings or afternoons.
Set up play date rules. Before your child’s friend comes over, talk about what she would like to do with her friend. Ask for input about a couple of activities she might like to do during the play date, like an arts and crafts activity or maybe setting up an area to play house in.
If the television and computer are off limits, tell her so. If you think there is a particular toy your child might not want to share, put it away. Discuss rules such as sharing, turn taking, and making the friend feel welcome. This goes for older kids, too. If you don’t want your 10-year-old playing certain video games or having unlimited access to snacks, make it clear in advance.
During the Play Date
Be Present, but be Invisible. Once your child’s guest has arrived, don’t just leave them to it. Suggest some activities that will break the ice and get things going. Help set up some toys or a game that they’d like to play. Once the play date is progressing well, back off a little but be available in case someone needs you.
Have snacks ready. Food is a great diversion for a play date that’s getting a little boring or out of control. Make sure you ask about any food allergies her child may have, and have some healthy options such as cut up fruit or cheese sticks available in addition to cookies. If it’s ok with your child’s friend’s parent, consider letting them decorate cupcakes or make their own ice cream sundaes for a yummy activity.
After the Play Date
If your child feels good about the play date, let the other mom know and plan another play date! If things didn’t go as well as you had hoped, try to reasonably figure out if it was something that can be worked out during another play date. If not, perhaps you need to take a break or try again with a new friend.