I was once a playdate novice. I was intimidated by the mere thought of a playdate. What did it involve? What was expected of me? How do I do this? My boys didn’t have any legit friends until they started preschool at almost four years old. They had each other, and as far as we were concerned, that was good enough. Almost all of our local parent-friends had children much older than ours.
Over the past few years, the boys have requested playdates with certain classmates or non-school friends. One at a time, I learned the fundamentals of planning and executing the perfect (or good-enough) playdate, and it has become much less daunting. A major benefit of a playdate is the kids play with each other, giving me a lovely break. I don’t even plan what they’re going to do, but I suggest activities if they seem antsy. Sending them outside to play, when the weather allows, is always helpful.
Here are some basic steps to help you plan one of your own:
Step 1: Identify another child with whom to make a playdate. This is actually more complex than it seems. I suggest choosing someone whose energy level matches that of your mini-me(s). We have had playdates with children who are much more rambunctious than our little ones, and things got kind of chaotic. Let’s just say I’m relieved my windows remained intact. And if the playmate is only interested in talking with you, the parent, that’s not really fun for your kiddo(s) either.
Step 2: Figure out how to contact the parents. I’ve had to tell my children that unfortunately, we can’t schedule a playdate with their classmate du jour because I have no idea how to contact the parents. Some parents don’t want to be contacted or share their phone number with the classroom teacher, so I respect that they don’t necessarily want to socialize outside of school hours.
Step 3: Plan the date and time, and *this is important* make sure the start and end time or duration of the playdate are well-defined. I have found that two to three hours is about all most kids can handle for a playdate. After that, the novelty of it all wears off, and the kids start getting edgy. No one likes that. And I always offer that the parent can drop off the friend and come back later to pick up. As I’m regularly responsible for my two kids, adding a third one for a short amount of time is (practically) no sweat. But it’s nice to visit with another parents if he or she wants to stay/referee. I’ve made a couple great friends this way!
Step 4: Have snacks on hand. And while offering carrots, celery, and blueberries is a nice idea, I know from firsthand experience that not all kids like those. One of my kids doesn’t. He only allows fruits in cooked, pureed form, preferably from a squeeze pouch. I like to have crackers, small cookies or bars, popcorn, or other basic snacks around. And of course, I ask about food allergies ahead of time. The kids always like to take a little break to nibble something, but sometimes they’re so into playing together, food barely gets touched. And that’s okay.
Step 5: Check in on the playing from time to time (especially when it gets too quiet), but keep your distance the rest of the time. Kids usually know how to entertain themselves, and they like to have some independence. I certainly could sit down and build Legos with them, but they have just as much fun without me hovering. I always stay within earshot and sneak a peak every so often just to make sure things are going smoothly.
Step 6: End the playdate. Most of the time, our visiting friend puts up a little bit of a fuss when it comes time to leave. I make sure my kids know it’s time for him or her to leave so that they don’t whine or beg for the friend to stay longer. I completely understand it’s hard to stop the party and say good-bye, but dragging it out is frustrating for the parent. (And I like my kids to know who’s in charge. Seriously.) As long as everyone got along decently, I make sure to tell the friend that we’d love to have him or her over another time and ask if that would be ok. It always is!
With a little effort, patience, and practice, you too can host the perfect (or good-enough) playdate!