Mothers and their children enjoying a playdate

5 Tips to Help Parents Make the Most of Playdates

Playdates as we know them are a relatively new phenomenon. Years ago, everything was informal; you rang the doorbell and asked if your friend could come out to play. Now, it tends to be more of a process, requiring planning and energy to schedule a true “playdate.” However, these playdates are important to helping your preschooler make friends. Amidst this culture change, parents are affected as much as children, so how can we put our best foot forward on playdates?

Generally for parents, there’s not much “play” in playdates because your children’s friends are no longer simply children of your best friends and neighbors. While children enjoy playtime with their friends, playdates can be less enjoyable for parents if they don’t know each other, especially for parents with younger children who are along for the ride (our son Bennett is still at the age where we go to playdates with him).

Play date Etiquette

Fortunately for my wife and me, some of our friends had children around the same time as we had Bennett, so we are able to host playdates where parents and children alike are friends. We also have friends who introduced us to other parents with children Bennett’s age, which has worked out nicely. That said, we too have had the experience of a “blind playdate” and for those, I have a few parenting tips:

Be prepared to make small talk. Oftentimes, you will have to make small talk because you may not know the other parents or have much in common with them. My wife is an amazing conversationalist and almost always wins people over. On the other hand, I am not as gifted in making fast friends. If you aren’t a socialite either, check out The Dinner Party Download podcasts that provide an easy way to keep up with cultural trends.

Avoid comparing the kids. When you’re done with small talk, it’s inevitable that both sets of parents will at some point talk about how precious their children are and what they love to do. Some parents may unintentionally ask questions about your child while comparing him to their child. For example: “Little Johnny really surprises me with his ability to recall sight words. Has your son started sight reading?”

How do you tell other parents that you don’t want to get into these types of conversations? One easy solution is to change the subject to another related topic. When one father started talking about his son’s speed, I took the conversation in a similar direction by discussing top college football recruits.

Be aware that your parenting is on display. On one playdate, Bennett began to fight with another child about who got to sit in the driver’s seat of a miniature school bus. The other child refused to budge, and five excruciating minutes later, I was still asking the boy to please let the other children have their turns. His mother pretended not to notice as I finally relented. You can’t force other parents to take action.

In this situation, there was nothing I could do except to redirect Bennett to another vehicle, which was fortunately available. This alternative provided a better solution than demanding that the boy’s mother allow Bennett to have a turn.

Don’t expect to take the day off. Remember, playdates aren’t birthday parties, so you shouldn’t assume the host will watch your child while you run errands. If the other parent volunteers to watch the kids – and you trust the adult in charge – you can take your leave. As a matter of courtesy, you should return well before the playdate is supposed to end.

Have an opt-out. This is a last resort for escaping the occasional playdate that may not go your way. My wife and I have a “code” text message in which we request emergency assistance in the form of a phone call. You can’t use it more than once around the same group of people without raising suspicion, though, so be judicious.

Not sure if your child is old enough for a playdate? Read this post to determine if your child is ready – and for some helpful playdate dos and don’ts!