It seems like a nice idea. In theory. But having another little friend over for a play can be all hugs and giggles one minute, and fights and chaos the next. Below is our foolproof way to put the play back in the date.
1. Remember the goal
The whole point of having another person’s child over is to take the heat off you for a couple of hours. You don’t want to get roped into tea parties or trampoline games, you want to open the back door and tell them to go off and play. A good strategy is to obviously keep an eye on them (so no one drinks the dishwasher rinse-aid), but stay as invisible as possible. Basically, good old-fashioned benign neglect. That’s how kids used to play, and it was way more fun. For them, and us.
2. Reveal at your own risk
Many of us have learned the hard way, that once you tell your child about an upcoming playdate, there’s no backing out or cancelling. Three, four or even five-year-olds don’t deal well when things fall through, so a good way to play it is to wait until the day (or day before), and then break the exciting news. Same goes for the visiting party, in case you have to cancel last minute.
3. Hide the good stuff
If there’s one special toy your child adores, chances are it will get broken or fought over when their BFF comes over. It happens every time. So heads up – hide the precious, lovely things. Hide the elaborate Lego dragon you spent hours building together. And the one Beanie Boo that everyone fights over. Also don’t be surprised if a couple of small, but covetable, items go missing after a playdate. Three-year-olds are really good at pocketing stuff.
4. Encourage a drop and go policy
Unless you’re good friends with the parents, it’s perfectly acceptable to do a nice friendly ‘hey how you doing’, then agree on a pickup time and wave goodbye to each other. You’re doing an amazing favour for that other parent, and they probably just want to spend the next two hours doing groceries or getting a haircut. Ditto for when they return the favour. So certainly offer the cup of tea, but also push for a quick, simple drop-and-go.
5. Play it your way
Everyone has their own house rules, you have yours – stick to them. So if you really don’t want little Ava jumping all over your couch in her dirty shoes, tell her, with a smile. It’s always a bit weird setting the rules with other people’s kids, but it’s worth it, because the last thing you want at the end of the playdate is a dirty couch and your own child thinking the house rules have suddenly changed.
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6. Snack them up
General rule: go for one healthy snack, one fun snack. That way, you’re filling them up with something substantial to prevent any low blood sugar meltdowns, but also making the whole thing a bit more memorable (because they will absolutely tell their mum that you gave them a lollipop). Again, your house, your rules, so if it’s a white bread Vegemite sandwich, so be it. Unless there are any food allergies at play, you don’t have to cater to any whimsical food requirements.
7. TV, only when desperate
One day, a playdate will go badly. And when it does, you might reach for the TV remote. It can be a good way to reset any tensions, but it will also kind of ruin the whole point of the playdate. So use it only when desperate, like when your son and his friend look like they’re going to kill each other with sticks, or your daughter’s little friend is crying under the couch. It happens. But like everything kids do, it’s usually pretty fleeting, and after a minute, they’re best friends again. Ride it out before turning to Netflix.
8. Return in same condition
This just means trying not to return the kid in soaking wet clothes after they got carried away with the hose, or covered in mud after they dug through the dirt patch in the yard. Some children also tend to come over with a lot of stuff, like hats and water bottles and tiaras and tutus. So just keep track of what’s coming in, and attempt to send it back out in a similar condition.
9. Plan the next one – at their house
That’s the deal. It’s unspoken, but it’s real. If you host today’s playdate, cross your fingers that the other parent knows the code and will return the favour very soon.