Playdates are a great way for your children (and, let’s be honest, you) to socially interact with people of a similar age. Different parenting approaches can, however, cause things to turn sour. We’ve braved our way through many a playdate and learned a few things the hard way: here are some etiquette tips we’ve learned along the way to help your playdate run (a little) smoother.
Sharing, taking turns and who had it first
Sharing: the topic that divides the universe. Babies and small children aren’t ready to understand sharing (same for taking turns or ‘who had it first’). It’s an adult concept, so let’s stop asking them to do it. There, I said it.
Let the kids (of similar age) fight it out (rule: no hitting, biting, or teasing a younger child) – it’s the best social learning they’ll ever have. “It’s not fair!” you might hear. Life’s not fair, sweets! When we intervene we separate the children, and the idea of a playdate is to bring them together. Chances are the kids will sort themselves out, especially if they know mum’s not there to fight their fight for them (nobody likes a dibber-dobber whiner). A successful play date has no victors and no victims.
As a courtesy, child-wrangling guru Janet Lansbury suggests that you ask your guests, “Do you want me to stop struggles immediately, or give the children a chance to work things out?” After all, you don’t want to be perceived as a hands-off mum, or for your child to be seen as a bully. If you can all agree to minimum intervention, the kids will engage in the most constructive play.
Lock away precious and dangerous things
Your child may know that the limited edition Gibson guitar is precious, but his or her playdates may not. Lock it away. It’s unrealistic to expect visiting children to follow all the rules in our own home, instead bring out the unbreakable oldies. You may also want to put away a favourite toy that your child never wants to share – save your sanity and save it for alone time.
Toys and weapons
Some heavy electronic and chunky timber toys can be used by children to club each other with in a moment of over-excitement. Offer up safe toys that facilitate social play instead – a bunch of cardboard tubes (from paper towels or cling wrap) allow the kids to use their imaginations and can be safely used as swords, wands, telescopes or flutes – or even a craft session! Kids are less likely to fight about sharing these and less likely to clock each other on the heads with them too.
Telling another child off
Oh dear, this old chestnut! It’s all in the tone. If you you absolutely need to step in (other mothers are out of sight, someone’s about to get hurt), then it’s time to put your best ‘calm voice’ on: “I can see you’re angry/frustrated, but I won’t let you hit/grab/throw.” Neutral tone, no anger nor judgement, just calm authority. Followed by some pleasantries like, “Can I show you this instead?” or “Let’s ask Johnny if you can play with his toy now.”
Don’t yell or get angry, especially at other people’s children. Smacking? Never. Instead we block or moderate gently if things get heated.
Vaccinations and illnesses
This is particularly important on baby playdates. Babies are not fully immunised until approximately 18 months old (see our guide to vaccinations). If your child is unable to have vaccines due to medical reasons, tell the other mums and stay vigilant to disinfecting toys before and after your child mouths them.
It goes without saying, if your child’s not well, bow out of the playdate. If they (or yourself) fall ill shortly after the playdate, let the other guests know so they can lookout for symptoms.
Photos and outfits
If you’re okay for your child to be part of an insta-worthy playdate shoot, you’ll feel particularly smug and even a little kiasu when you dress them in an awesome #OOTD! Remember to ask for permission before photographing, and also check if an upload to social media is approved. If you’ve arranged for a helper playdate, communicate your wishes to your helper.
Snacks and food
Have a designated snack time where everyone comes away from the play area and sits to eat – even if it’s on a separate mat on the floor. Nobody wants to test their CPR choking moves on a child! Always clear the snacks with mum first – allergies and all that jazz are very real.
Lastly, make sure you have a bottle of bubbles chilling in the fridge. You never know when an SOS pick-me-up is needed.
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