Successful playdates don’t just happen. A lot of planning and communication between the two sets of parents is necessary, not to mention endless hours of teaching your child acceptable social behaviour. After all, you don’t want her taking off her pants, running around naked, doing a wee in the kiddies’ pool, pulling the cat’s tail or sticking her cheese curls in her nose before eating them.
You can’t just drop your kids off at the front door, ring the bell and race off with screeching tyres. You have to ease yourself, your child and the hosting parents gently into this new exercise. Although older children can spend almost the whole day at a friend’s house, little ones aren’t ready to be separated from you for that long yet.
At what age should I start organising playdates for my child?
“It really depends on the child, but for arranged playdates accompanied by their moms, I would recommend that they start around four years of age,” says Ruth Ancer, and educational and clinical psychologist. “It’s good for them to start learning to interact with other children.” She explains that this doesn’t mean that your child shouldn’t be exposed to other kids at a playgroup or preschool, or spend time with other children at outings arranged by their mothers before their fourth birthday. Four is simply the age at which it’s a good idea to begin to encourage child-led friendships and interactions. It’s important not to entrust your child to someone they don’t know at this early age, and rather accompany them to the playdate yourself – especially the early ones.
How long should a playdate last?
Educational psychologist, Karin Bronkhorst says the first playdate should be short and sweet, lasting for only about half an hour to an hour. Later it can be extended to two hours. The time of day should also be planned well. Ideally, playdates for small children should take place in the afternoon, after their nap, or during the morning, when they won’t be overtired or overstimulated. It’s also best to reschedule a play date if your child is ill.
How many friends should be at a playdate?
No one likes to be the third wheel on the wagon, so it’s best to stick to one friend per playdate. Some of the playmates could easily feel left out when there are more than two children. If your little one has more than one friend over, and you see that one of the friends is left out, gently include the other child in the fun, and supervise them for a while. It also helps to choose or suggest activities that are suitable for more than two children to play together.
Helpful playdate tips
- Let your child choose the friends she wants to play with.
- Don’t over-schedule playdates; two a week should be enough for your child.
- Set rules at the beginning of a playdate. This will inform your visitor, and remind your child, of expected behaviour.
- Remember to check dietary requirements and allergies beforehand with the visiting child’s parents.
- Provide the children with food and drinks. This can be an opportunity for them to calm down a bit when they become over-excited.
- Take turns hosting playdates.
- When handling conflict or disciplining a visiting child, tell the other parent what happened and how you handled it. It’s better for them to hear it from you than from their child.
- Have some calm time or down time during a playdate, where the children can do something that’s more relaxed and calming. This will also prevent them from becoming too excitable.
- When your child does misbehave during a playdate at someone else’s house, gently and calmly remind her of the boundaries, and that she’ll have to go home if her misbehaviour continues.
- Always make sure that you provide all your contact details to the parent supervising a playdate to ensure that she can get hold of you in an emergency.
- Find a balance between planned activities and free play. Check in with the other parent to see what her child likes to do.
- Young children love to run around. Give them enough time to run and play outside; and if they become over-excited, choose an activity they can do inside like drawing, playing in the sand, building puzzles or playing hide-and-seek.
- Always inform the visiting child’s parents when you plan to do something special with the children, like taking them to the park or going swimming, for example.
Real mom playdate rules
We asked Wendy, mom to Aimee (5), Danielle (4) and Xavier (2) about her playdate rules.
If her children are at a friend’s house:
- I will stay if I don’t know the people hosting the playdate well.
- I always survey the house first to see who else is there and to assess any safety hazards.
- If I leave the kids there, I fix a firm collection time with the mom.
- I instruct my children to behave themselves while I’m not there.
- I let the other mother know what I consider to be acceptable discipline.
- I always leave a big bag containing a change of clothes, a towel and face wipes – just in case.
If Wendy is hosting another child:
- I never invite too many kids.
- I try to plan some games or activities like painting or cookie decorating to keep them busy.
- If it’s summer, I try to do something to keep them cool, like running a sprinkler. I ask their mothers to send the appropriate clothes.
- The other parents are welcome to stay and I will provide snacks and drinks.
- I don’t provide sugary snacks for the kids. Instead, I make pizza or healthy platters with a dip.
- I always assume that another child will find a way to hurt himself that my children haven’t yet discovered, so I keep a beady eye on them.