Modern Play Date Etiquette for Parents
Play date is a term I had to introduce to my mother. This foreign concept was a far reach from the days of my childhood summer vacations. I recall summers of daily walks down the street, carrying my favorite doll by one arm, all the way to my best friend’s house so I could knock on the door and ask if she could play.
Times have changed.
Play date has replaced what used to be “spontaneous playtime.” Years ago, if a child wanted to play with a friend, she’d casually walk to the friend’s house (most of the time alone), knock on the door, and ask if the friend wanted to play. Now, kids could be perceived as forceful or inconsiderate if they show up without calling and scheduling a play date ahead of time first. Now, we need to make an appointment, much like that of a roof repair or doctor’s visit.
There are various reasons why this play date change has occurred… safety, busier schedules, dual working parents, numerous sports and recreational activities, and many school requirements and commitments. Therefore, the playdate has become a necessary evil and “Play date Etiquette” has to be considered.
Even more so, some parents of especially younger kids are invited to “hang out” during the play dates. When my kids were very little, it seemed strange to me that I’d be invited to hang out at whoever’s house… having coffee at someone’s kitchen table while my son and his new friend were playing in the basement. Still, I oddly felt obligated to stay for a play date when I was invited.
Joining in on the play date definitely throws more dynamics into the mix. Parents get more involved and watch their child’s every move while chiming in with suggestions. A generation ago, this was unheard of. Children dove into friendships and play, and they were responsible to deal with any confrontations that arose.
That brings us to a potential snag resulting from the formalities of play date etiquette… After all the play date planning and preparing, what if a play date does not go well? I mean, when kids are 3 or 4 years old, the whole play date concept can be a bit of a crapshoot. If my child chooses, for whatever reason, to not play with a specific friend anymore, now you’ve got a parent who’s wondering why you’re not calling anymore. If things were the way they used to be, my child could choose which doors she wanted to go knock on. But now, with parents calling each other to do the arranging, these “snags” are obvious, and it all falls on the parents to deal with any play date issues.
Since my kids are very close in age, I always thought that the play date etiquette was just for the very small children and the phase would wear off quickly – by the time they hit 7 or 8 maybe.. I was wrong. Even as my oldest approaches 12 years old I still find myself on the hook calling and taking calls from interested parents and nannies trying to squeeze in a couple hours during the summer for a quick play date. How long is this going to go on for? I’ve gotten to the point where, outside of the transportation, I’m leaving all the play date etiquette to my son. I’m not a cruise director and I don’t think it sends the right message for a parent to decide when and where a child should play. It’s time for him to learn some independence.
Tips – Play Date Etiquette for Parents
- Keep play dates short (under 2 hours) – especially for first-time play dates and for younger children
- Try to forge a cordial, almost professional relationship with the other parent
- Try to split responsibilities between parents equally. Take turns hosting, driving/picking up etc…
- Be prepared by having snacks readily available
- Make sure you find out about food allergies and let the other parent(s) know what snacks may be served
- Monitor all internet activity during playdates at your home and request the same supervision for your child away from home. Internet safety varies wildly from household to household.
- If hosting, make sure your child is armed with suggestions for activities and things to do before the other child arrives. You don’t want a play date where it ends up being 2 kids watching Sponge Bob together for an entire afternoon.