“Playdates” or planned kiddie social get-togethers are getting popular these days - because of increased demand for safety, parents being busy and kids not living in an area or apartment complexes where they can easily and safely pop into each other’s homes for impromptu play.
Playdates are an opportunity for you to get to know your child’s peers, understand the group dynamics and for your child to fine-tune her social and group problem solving skills and bond with her peers. And of course for you to know other moms / dads and keep a tab on what is happening with the kid's buddies.
Here are some tips for fun and easy playdates.
Preparing for the playdate
- Whom to call? When? For how long?
- Number - Let your child decide whom to call. Of course if there is a bad company issue, then temper delicately with your judgement. Give them a limit for the number of kids. For the first playdate, it might be best to have just one playmate. So that they get to know each other well. For other playdates, it might be okay to have 1, 2 or 3 other kids. Remember that kids tend to get boisterous in large groups. If you are calling 2 kids, then be watchful of 2 ganging up on the third. And invite more than 3/4 kids for special playdates (birthday, end-of-school etc.) as it gets tough to manage so many active ones.
- Time - It might be best to limit the playdate for upto 2 hours unless the kids really know each other.
- Sleepovers - Figure out your views on allowing sleepovers and at what age, beforehand. Talk to other Parentree parents. We have focused only on playdates here.
- Even if it is a drop-off, it might be a good idea to invite the moms at times for coffee / tea when they come to drop-off or pick-up. This way you can catch up with what is happening in your child's friends' lives as well.
- Do your homework.
- Find out food habits.
- Does she like dosa or biscuits or apples etc.?
- Ask about food allergies, parents’ attitude toward junk food etc.
- You could have one “safe” item and one different one. This way playdates can be an opportunity to expose kids to different foods with minimum risk.
- What they like to do and play? Think about and involve your child in deciding a few activities. Of course, children will change your plan and spontaneity is fun but it helps to have thought and prepared.
- Above all, relax and keep the playdate simple.
- It is okay to have a messy house.
- Do not stress over making a lot of fancy snacks. Kids are happy with biscuits and a fruit as well.
- The children and your sanity are more important.
- Set up the ground-rules and other ideas in a gentle manner upfront.
- For example, no closing the bedroom door; After playing, you are going to help us in the clean up; You can play everywhere but not in the drawing room and so on.
- Decide your rules and limits. Stick to a few and be firm about these.
- Let them know that you or some other responsible adult are available should they need something or need any help.
- You could have one planned activity.
- For example read a book to them, bake cookies, have them do some art or craft.
- Depends on the situation: In case they are taking time to warm up, this will get them started. Or if start squabbling in the course of the playdate, this can be good quiet time for the kids.
- If they make something, they can take it home as well.
- You could also scatter some play and activity materials around to spark play.
- This is especially useful if there are more than 3 or 4 kids - all kids will have a variety of fun things to choose from.
- For example, open the lego box, board games, carrom board, the dress-up box, sketch pens and paper...
- Keep some games and ideas in your mind as well in case one of them comes and tells you that they are bored.
- Be available for them. But do not intervene unnecessarily.
- Kids this age might want to be left alone while hanging-out. Respect that.
- Once they are set and playing well, you could be in the other room to intervene if there is a problem. You could even be on your laptop. Be doing something and still be there for them.
- Wait for cues from them that they are getting bored and then suggest an activity.
- Avoid or minimize turning on the TV or other video or computer games.
- Encourage them to play and interact first. Use entertainment only as a very last resort or towards the latter part of the playdate.
- Remember this is a playdate and the idea is for them to hangout together.
- As they get older, you might need to decide about your policy about video games, Nintendo, Wii etc. Learn more about these. Talk to other Parentree parents. Some games that encourage interaction and physical movement like Nintendo Wii might be okay within limits.
- For older kids:
- If you are concerned about peer pressure and certain undesirable activities (for example, girls talking about boys and sex when they are still little), keep a discreet watch, be calm and distract if need be. They are growing up and you need to handle things delicately. For example, if your 7 year-old daughter’s buddies are giggling about kisses and boys, you could just diffuse the situation with some humour, by hugging and kissing some of them and saying that I love you and kiss you to show my affection...
- Unless something is really out of limits, do not be too strong in front of their peers. You could alienate your child in the process instead of making them open out to you. Talking to your child after the playdate might be more effective.
- This is where an open and strong relationship with your child and your network with other moms can help.
- Above all, decide the limits that are important to you and then stick to these gently and firmly.
- Have a snack break.
- Make sure that the snacks are served on the dining table and not in their room. Its your chance to chat with them and learn so much about your child, his peers and their group dynamics.
- You can even involve them in getting the snack ready and setting the table. Its fun and makes them feel important and responsible.
- Some fun, healthy and easy snack ideas our kids love - Mickey Mouse dosa (small dosa for face and tiny ones for ears and eyes and mouth, just be creative), fruit salad, cucumber and carrot sticks with dip.
- You can give milk or juice / water as well. They might forget to drink fluids. So do remind them.
- Keep it simple though, especially if you do not have help. It is more important that you are tuned to the children, having fun and keeping your sanity.
- Conflict or complaining—what to do?
- First wait to let them sort it out. If it is going out of hand, you will need to intervene.
- Involve them in problem solving.
- If some are complaining all the time, then ask them gently to sort it out themselves and come to you only if they have tried sorting it out.
- If they both want to play with the same toy, ask them to take turns.
- If they want to different things, you could remind them that they are here for a playdate together and ask them to think of an activity that all of them might like.
- If these do not work, you might need to distract them and make them have some quiet time, perhaps even separate time doing different activities for a while, before you let them play together.
- If the kids are getting physical or abusve, then let them know that is not acceptable without being punitive.
- They are now old enough for you to reason with them. For example: YES--You cannot say nasty things to Amjad because he feels bad hurt. So, how would you feel if Amjad said this to you; NO--Amrit you are a bad boy for pushing Amjad.
- Have coffee / tea / simple snacks for the mom.
- Keep it simple and fun.
- This is not the time to show-off your culinary skills or your house but a time for your kids to play together and for you to socialize with the mom.
- Prepare for the goodbyes
- Give at least a 10-minute warning before ending the playdate.
- Encourage them to get excited about something else - the next playdate or some happening at school etc., the painting they made for taking home, the toffee that you are going to give them to take etc.
Top 4 takeaways:
- Prepping up earlier can make it easier for later.
- Involve the kids as much in preparing and problem solving.
- Have an open relationship with your child. Network with the other moms to keep a tab on what his happening with their peers.
- Be relaxed.
It comes naturally. Just stay tuned to your child and their pals, be prepared and be yourself! Last but not the least, do not over-do playdates. Kids need some downtime and time to play by themselves as well.
This is a wonderful article about playdates! My 6 year-old son is having his first playdate here at our house in two days. Since it's our first one, I've been searching the internet for ideas and information. And I only recently met the mom (her parents live across the street from us), so I'm kind of nervous. This article made me relax. It made me realize what is important - the kids playing together! They don't need fancy games or snacks or a perfectly clean house. Thanks for helping me -in so many ways - probably more than you will ever know! THANK YOU!!!