11 (Totally Breakable) Rules for the Modern Playdate

Photo by Ali Lanenga / Stocksy United / 800024
Photo by Ali Lanenga / Stocksy

Once upon a time, “playdates” went like this: Parents would tell their kids to go outside to play until dinner time. And off they went, playing with other kids whose parents had done the exact same thing.

No longer. Free play now is just as scheduled as a date, hence the “playdate” moniker.

For better or for worse, our modern approach has formalized child’s play—and with that comes new guidelines (and the potential for minor social flubs). Here are a few simple rules for the modern playdate. (Also feel free to break them.)

1. For Baby and Toddler Playdates, Keep ‘em Short, Small, and Sweet 

One-on-one playdates work best for the younger kiddos, as groups of three or more can get overwhelming—for you and the toddlers. No matter the size of the group, try to keep the fun limited to an hour or less to avoid incompatible napping and feeding schedules.

2. These Days, Parents Are Often Part of the Playdate, so Know the Expectations 

Not sure if you’re invited? Test the waters with, “Would you like me to stay as well to make sure the kids are comfortable? I’m totally fine either way.” On the other hand, parent hosts sometimes use playdate time to, say, get the laundry done, so they may not want to sit and gab over a cup of matcha.

3. Peanuts and Gluten and Milk, Oh My 

So many kids have food allergies these days that you’ll look like a hero host if you proactively ask about allergies beforehand. Similarly, if you’re dropping off your child with special diet needs, either bring along some snacks for everyone or let the host know about your child’s diet ahead of time.

4. Exchange Contact Info

Of course, if a parent isn’t staying, be sure to exchange contact information.

5. Set the Kids up for Sharing Success 

Kids don’t really learn to share until age three or so. Avoid the “no, that’s mine!” scenario by asking your child to put away her super special toys before her friends arrive, with the understanding that all the other toys and games will be shared.

6. Have a Game or Activity in Mind—Just in Case 

If your charges are enjoying free play, great! Still, it’s always good to have a backup activity plan. You don’t need to go crazy with Pinterest-worthy crafts, but just having a play dough table, sandbox, or even a cardboard box available can keep kids happily occupied for a while.

7. Be Prepared to Answer a Few Questions 

Dropping kids off at another home can be hard for some parents, so don’t sweat the anxious dad who asks a lot of questions about your home or parenting style. Because everyone’s house rules are a bit different, these days parents often trade information about things like screen time, discipline, and food.

8. Don’t Feel You Have to Play Referee in Every Little Tiff

Playdates are an important time for kids to work on their social interactions and learn how to resolve disagreements, so stay out of the small stuff. If it escalates, step in to peacefully restore the peace.

9. Mind (and Teach) the Manners 

It seems obvious, but do teach your child to say “please” and “thank you” to both friends and adults.

10. Help Clean Up 

If you pick your child up and the host’s living room looks as if a tornado blew through, help clean up—and don’t take “don’t worry about it” for an answer. If you all pitch in (kids included), it won’t take long to clean up the mess and you’ll be teaching your child a lesson about being a good guest.

11. Get Outside 

Break up your routine with a walk on a trail or a stroll through your neighborhood. Other parents will probably appreciate getting some fresh air, too. Bring plenty of snacks and you could even get your 10,000 steps in!

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