“I’m new to play dates and we’re inviting my son’s friend over for the first time. Do parents usually stay or do they drop off their children? Is there some sort of “play date etiquette” that I should follow?”
- Jessica G., Massachusetts
Thanks so much for writing in. Welcome to the world of play date hosting. Play dates can help open your child to a whole new world of forming friendships, learning to share and having fun. For moms, it's a brand new ball game. I can’t lie. Hosting play dates can be overwhelming at first. Thankfully, the “etiquette” for play date hosting can be narrowed down to these three things: Common sense parenting, kid-to-kid chemistry and proper planning.
Being a "veteran” play date host I have been through the wringer. We once had a parent drop off both of their children at our house for four hours, including the older “selective-listening” sibling who was never invited in the first place. Go figure.
I’ve learned through the years that you never know how a parent is going to behave, never mind their children. I’ll be the first to admit that no one’s perfect, but when parents are inconsiderate, it can be downright aggravating. We have also successfully hosted mega-play dates where five children, ages five to nine, got along swimmingly! My advice? Follow simple guidelines before diving in head first.
Follow these rules of thumb for successful play date hosting:
1. Practice good parent-to-parent communication. Ask if the parent will be staying for the duration of the play date. Not all parents will stay. Especially those with older children. They are used to leaving their child at someone else’s house. This can be shocking for you at first, but it is common. And as your child gets older, you will appreciate it when the tables are turned. If the parent does stay, make sure to have some snacks prepared.
2. Set a time. If a parent wants to drop off their child, set a realistic time limit for the play date. Generally, start with a two-hour time frame and go from there. Four or five hours may be a little long, but as they get older, it’s more common.
3. Ask for contact information. Ask for the parent’s contact information. This should be a common courtesy, but some parents don’t think about it.
4. Food allergies. Ask if the child has allergies. This is something you will get used to asking especially when your child starts school, but it may not be second-nature yet. There are many children with peanut, tree-nut and milk allergies and it is important for you to be informed and plan any snacks or meals accordingly.
5. Kid-to-kid chemistry. I'm not talking about mixing liquids in the classroom, rather mixing personalities. When kids get along, it's a dream. You can fold laundry while checking on them and it’s like a free coupon for mommy sanity. But if they start bickering 15 minutes into a play date, you need to step in and take control. Get involved if things get awkward. Have them start a craft or new activity.
6. Just one. Don’t invite more than one friend over at a time. There will be plenty of time for hosting mega-play dates in the future. But it’s best to invite one friend over at a time, to test the waters of kid-to-kid chemistry.
7. Keep it simple. Don’t plan a first play date at the roller skating rink or a busy public park. Host it at your house where you can monitor the children easily and conveniently. When they get older, you can be more flexible with the venue.
8. Don't hover. Let the kids enjoy their time together. Be present but don’t hover over them. This rule depends on the ages of the kids, of course.
9. Outside time. If the weather is good, have the kids play outside in your backyard. Let them get their wiggles out, but be prepared to monitor them at all times.
10. Plan fun, positive activities. Plan fun and positive activities, crafts and games. Do something creative like drawing or making a card for the parents.
11. Reciprocate. When your child is invited over to someone else’s house, follow rules 1-4 and always reciprocate. Being a courteous parent can be contagious!
12. Communicate with your child. Communicate with your child following a play date. Ask your child how it went. If they had fun, they will ask you if their friend can come over again!