Mama Hacks: Playdates

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In this new series of parenting tips and tricks we aim to give you simple ideas to make your life as a mom or dad just a little bit easier! If you have any suggestions for a future Mama Hacks article, let us know!

Playdates. That word can strike fear into the heart of many a mama – what do you do with an extra kid or two? What if they don’t have fun? What if their parent decides to stay? What if their parent decides to leave? What if their kid misbehaves? What if your kid does? What if it’s raining? We are here today to give you a few great tips and tricks or “hacks” on ways to make playdates extra fun and stress-free!

playdate hacks
photo by katrinket / CC BY

How to initiate a playdate. For you seasoned playdate veterans out there, you’ve probably just said, “well, duh, you ask them” but if you don’t find yourself regularly bumping into parents at school drop off and pick up or perhaps you are shy or introverted, we LOVE this tip: create a playdate card for your kiddo to hand out. It’s a simple little business card that has the kids name, parents’ names and contact information and when they are available for a playdate.

Limit the playdate to 1 – 2 kids. Too many kids can be over stimulating and things can go sideways quickly. Keep the numbers small to have a better handle on the playdate. It’s easier to do activities, crafts etc. when there are fewer extra kids around!

Set a start time and end time for the playdate. This is a good idea for so many reasons: it gives the parent of your guest a clear indication of an end time, it allows you to provide time warnings to kids that the playdate is going to be over soon and it means you aren’t sitting there wondering when the playdate friend will be picked up! We’d suggest no more than 2 hours and even less if the kids are quite young. Use this as a starting point and adjust accordingly for future playdates.

playdate hacks

Get the lowdown from the other parent before the beginning of the playdate. We like to ask these questions either when the kiddo is first invited or prior to playdate drop off to help guide playdate activities and snacks:

  • any food allergies or sensitivities?
  • any food favourites?
  • any restrictions on eating (such as not snacking too close to dinner)
  • their preferences on TV / iPad / electronics time? (Note – if we are planning on watching a movie or TV show we always make it clear with the other parent in the playdate invitation)
  • anything else we need to know (for example, our oldest kiddo still needs a reminder every now and then to use the bathroom as he tends to get distracted easily by fun activities and will hold it until it’s a mad rush to the bathroom!)

Put away special toys. Perhaps your kiddo has a special toy that they don’t like to share or fear will be broken. Encourage them to select a few of their more precious items for you to put away for the duration of the playdate. This helps set up that all the rest of their toys are fair game to be played with by their guest. It also puts them at ease that the LEGO project they were building isn’t going to get accidentally destroyed by their friend.

playdate hacks

Be prepared to host the other parent. To avoid the sometimes-awkward drop-off and help put the other parent at ease, we always extend the invitation for them to come in and stay while the kids are playing. They may decline but we always like to ask, and who knows, you may end up with a new friend yourself!

Keep snack time simple. We like to put out a tray of snacky items: cheese, crackers, grapes, mini mandarin oranges, carrot sticks, cucumber slices. Popcorn is also always a big hit! You know, the stuff kids tend to go for. Let the kids graze as they are feeling munchy. Serve drinks with straws. For some reason, kids just LOVE drinking from straws, the sillier the better.

Make a playdate kit. Playdate Kits are boxes or tote bags full of easy to grab and easy to play with games and craft items. We keep a few things inside our hall closet and then another one in the garage for outdoor play. Great for impromptu playdates or if the kids are getting restless!

playdate kit

What to do when playdates go wrong. Bad manners, bad behavior, injuries and tears, here’s what we do: For bad manners, a simple “in our house we…” tends to help the visiting kid understand your expectations of their behavior. If that doesn’t seem to work, we find a redirection resets attitudes. For example, if it seems like the issue is an unwillingness to share a particular toy, direct the kids to a new activity. Switch to arts and crafts, go for a walk, hunt for worms (a great outdoor rainy day activity), or play a board game.

For owies: We have boo-boo bags in our freezer (rice filled fabric sacks that help ease pain) and if the injury is really bad we always call the parents. But a tiny bump or little scrape can usually be solved with a fun bandage and a moment on the couch. Kids tend to want to get back to playing quickly!

And what do you report back to the other parent? For any sort of bump or bruise, we always tell the other parent what happened. But for bad behavior? We tend to follow the sage advice of Andrea Nair, psychotherapist and parenting educator: we don’t tend to mention it to the parent if it’s minor squabbles or misunderstandings, those happen. If the other parent asks specifically about their kids’ behavior, we follow Ms. Nair’s suggestion to say, “this is what happened, and this is what I did to deal with it, is that ok?”. It has gone over well when the situation arises. The other parents have had some helpful suggestions as to how to help their kid through periods of less than ideal behavior. The important thing to do is to keep the spirit of collaboration alive – it will help the relationship you foster with the parent as well as the friendship of your kiddos.

playdate hacks

We hope you found these hacks helpful. At the end of the day, the most important part is that the kids have fun! So let them be your guide, if they seem happy playing with toys around the house, there is no need to intervene! Let them play. That is, after all, the goal!

By: Michelle Hughes

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