Without further ado, here are The Top 10 Tips For Surviving Playdates:
Know Thy Enemy -- Implement a journalistic strategy and get to work: know the who, what, where, when and why of the playdate. Who is the playmate and who are the parents of this child? What are the kids going to do during their time together? Where will the playdate occur? Will it be at your house, or at the home of the playmate, or neither? When will the fun begin? Will the visit be for a few hours or all day (gulp)? Why this particular playmate? Are they your child's new best friend? If so, go back to the who and get to know both the parents and the child so that you're all comfortable with this new friendship
Case the Joint -- As parents, we're responsible for our children's well-being whether they're physically with us or not. To this end, we'd be remiss if we didn't fully investigate the surroundings of our child's visit to their friend's home. Know where your child is going for the playdate, and if necessary, check it out yourself. Better that you're comfortable sending your child away for a few hours than not. You're well within your rights as a parent to want to know where your child is going so don't be shy about checking out the scene before your child has the actual playdate.
Ground Rules -- Whether you're hosting or sending your kid off for a few hours of play, rules are rules. Make sure that these are known and agreed-upon with the other parent as well as your child. These include how long the playdate will be, where it will occur, if food will be served and if so, are there any dietary/allergy-related items that need to be addressed, who is doing pickup and dropoff of the attending child, etc. Making sure that everyone's on the same page before the playdate starts will assure that there are less troubles later.
Plan B -- What if things don't work out? What if little Aiden gets into a fight with little Lucas and no longer wants to be little Lucas' friend? If this is the case, you have to be prepared to pick up your child or send home the "offending" child sooner than later. Make sure you have this contingency plan in place before you say goodbye to the visiting child's parents at the start of the visit.
Food, Glorious Food -- What are you going to serve the little ones? Are there allergies or dietary requirements to consider? How much is too much? Can the kids gorge on chocolate and soft drinks for the duration of the visit? These are all questions that need to be considered and answered before the playdate starts. After all, you don't want any surprises, e.g. your sweet little child coming home and promptly throwing up after a few hours of chowing down on goodies. Even worse, you don't want to have to be the cause of an extreme allergic reaction by a visiting child due to lack of planning or discussion with the child's parents in advance.
Three's a Crowd -- Remember: it's a lot easier to maintain order if you have a smaller group of kids as part of a gathering. If you're the host of a planned play date, don't let the numbers exceed three children. Frankly, I like to have two children maximum, as three invites issues of one child being left out and four is verging on "party" status. Two is just fine, thank you very much. Two children -- one of them yours -- are so much easier to control.
Being There -- Hosting a playdate, or sending your child off to one doesn't mean that you are completely exonerated of your parenting duties. While you might have the urge to completely check out while the kids are playing (either at your home or at the playmate's home), remember that you are still a parent and accordingly, should be there for your child.
Sometimes kids just want to know that you're available, either in the next room, or via telephone, text, email or otherwise. If the playdate is in your home, make yourself scarce yet available -- yes, it sounds contradictory, but it can be done. Be downstairs while the kids are in the bedroom but let them know that you're there and that they can come to you if need be.
Similarly, if you're sending your child off to a playdate, let them know that you will be available if they would like to call or text you, and that you can come and pick them up at a moment's notice, if the child is uncomfortable. Children thrive on knowing that their parents are there for them. So be there, in one way or another.
Neutral Ground -- Children are possessive, particularly on their own turf. We're talking toys, video games, computers and anything else that they've left their "scent" upon. When another child threatens to play with their stuff, they often become like protective mama bears with their items, and many an argument has resulted from a playdate where the visiting child had the "nerve" to touch Johnny's favorite toy. Avoid this scenario all together by considering hosting the playdate on neutral ground. This could mean at an indoor playground, a movie theatre (take the kids) or a playground. By doing this, you've eliminated a possible cause of tension between the kids and given them one less reason to fight -- and ruin the playdate altogether.
Old-School Play -- Technology is great -- I'm the first to admit this fact. Even so, we're losing some of our interactive skills because of its prevalence. This is particularly the case with kids: television, video games, XBox consoles and the latest computer/online fad is enough to keep our kids glued to a screen or monitor, one way or another. Sure, it's fun, but during a playdate, it's best to downplay the digital aspect of play, at least for the short time that your child is interacting with another. Why, you may ask? Well, we all know how mesmerized our children can become within a few short moments of starting a digitally-based game. It's all fine and dandy sometimes, but at the end of the day, we're trying to facilitate solid friendships as well as social interaction when agreeing to a playdate. For these reasons alone, it's best to put a limit on the tech-based games and perhaps have the kids interact in a more conventional way.
Mind Your Ps and Qs -- Kids need to be reminded that regardless of the situation, it's always a good idea to be on their best behaviour. Minding one's manners is good etiquette and it's never too early to teach children this fact. This is particularly the case when visiting a friend's home, as well as being a courteous host when having someone to his own home. Make sure that your kids are primed to remember to say "please," "thank you" and to mind their manners when attending a playdate.
So there it is -- some basic rules for getting through the myriad playdates that are likely part and parcel of your child's life. Follow the above tips and you and your child will be ready to go!
Follow Samantha Kemp-Jackson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@samkj27