I never remember playdates being a “thing” when I was growing up. Now, as a parent, it is all the rage. My children frequently wonder aloud why they have playdates on certain days and not on others. All I know is that I spend way too much time arranging them. It takes a lot of logistical coordination from picking the venue, to timing, carpooling, dropping off, picking up. You get the idea.
Recently, I got to thinking about the real intent of playdates. Is it to socialize kids outside of school and organized activities? Is it to provide another parent with a much needed respite? Is it to occupy your child so they will not be bored? It could be a little bit of all of these or none at all.
While the typical playdate is mostly uneventful, one thing I have learned (I think we all have) is that playdates do not always go as planned. Every so often you are confronted with a non-standard, “out of the box” situation (whatever that may be; insert situation here). Playdates do not come with instructions and just some assembly required. Neither your children’s pediatrician nor their teachers give you guidelines on how to host or be a guest at a playdate. It is basically a free-for-all with different sets of rules that apply in different homes (shoes on/off, inside speaking voices, snack times, etc.). The list goes on and on. Add to the mix the possibility of having a child with anxiety, sensory issues, food allergies, impulsivity or fears and you have a whole new set of variables.
How can we prepare our children and the parents who host for playdates that will go smoothly and ensure an invite back? Many parents are afraid to send their child at all in fear that they will get the dreaded phone call to come pick them up early (the majority of us have gotten one or two of those before).
Here are some tried and true tips on how to have a successful playdate:
Invest time in planning. Think about how the playdate will unfold and think through various scenarios or situations that may occur.
“Three’s a crowd”. Playdates work best with two children.
Keep it short. Playdates should last one hour. End on a high note with happy kids.
Do not overstay. Moms and dads sometimes have way more fun than kids. Remember the playdate is for the children and not necessarily the parents.
Only “drop off” when ready. Why push it?
Discuss expectations with your child. Explain how to be a good host/guest. Be clear & firm with other parents about your expectations.
Have activities planned. Cooking, scavenger hunts and art projects are all great ideas.
Plan for transition time. Provide appropriate warnings about ending the playdate.
Playdates can be wonderful opportunities for all children to learn, grow and develop friendships.
Abra Jacobs Goldemberg is the Assistant Director of the Rosenthal JCC’s Early Childhood Education Program in Plesantville, NY. In this role, Abra supervises all aspects related to the provisions of Early Childhood and Early Intervention Services. She spends her summers at Camp Ramah Nyack as the Rosh Edah for Edat haKochavim. Abra lives in White Plains, NY with her husband and 2 sons. She has hosted too many playdates to count and dreads the cleanup.