*This article previously appeared in Mums & Tots parenting magazine. They never mentioned wine in the title. But I did.
Playdates come in for a very bad rap. We’ve all heard the horror stories either courtesy of our friends or through reading our favourite blogs. Sometimes I wonder how much of these recountings actually happened; surely they have all been exaggerated a little bit. After all no-one is going to laugh at a playdate that didn’t have drama attached to it, something that makes us half laugh in thanks that whatever has taken place was in someone else’s house.
No-one likes playdates being really honest about it, but sometime we just have to suck it up for the sisterhood. We all need that friend who says, “I’ll pick them up at lunchtime and give you the afternoon with the new baby.”
With four children of my own I have been pleasantly surprised to find the group dynamic can be changed, and often for the better, by adding another child to the mix. I call it the novelty factor. I am also discovering, the older the child the easier the playdate and dare I say it, more enjoyable for everyone concerned.
These meet ups don’t have to be micro-managed. A little forward planning can make things run more smoothly.
A few pointers to remember.
Feed your charges. Kids like to eat. Blood sugar levels that are allowed drop can only go one way fast - towards mini meltdowns complete with large disagreements and tears. A large feast isn’t necessary, keep healthy snacks handy; fruit and popcorn always go down a treat. You could incorporate baking as a fun activity. A basic cookie recipe with smarties or chocolate buttons for toppings. Make the dough beforehand and leave the fun part, the decorating, to the kids.
You kind of are the unpaid babysitter. This doesn’t mean you have to hover all of the time but a certain level of supervision is required. Silence is not always golden. Go about your regular day but keep a watchful presence. This lets the kids know you are there if they need anything and also makes them aware you are being vigilant. A bit sneaky with a touch of benign Big Brother about it but also a necessary tactic.
Don’t let the playdate run too long. This one might seem like a no-brainer but I’ve had tears at the end of even slightly too long playdates. They can be great fun but overwhelming and kids can crash and burn hard following the excitement and build up beforehand. Decide a time and stick to it. Even better if you can do the pick-ups and home runs.
Set ground rules. It’s perfectly ok to outline one or two expectations such as no playing in the adults’ bedrooms, don’t be mean to the dog, no ball games in the house and ask before you open the fridge.
Put away the good stuff. This applies to your breakables and more importantly your own child’s favourite possessions. If there is something they are a tad obsessive over and really don’t like sharing, put it away. It’s also a good idea to remind your child not to swap belongings. It might be considered “a loan” but kids are notorious for waking up at 2am and wanting the most random of things. Like that DVD they gave away or their favourite Lego set - the one they suddenly cannot live without.
Expect Revolt. It’s not uncommon for your child to up the ante during a playdate on home turf. Kids like to test their powers when entertaining on their own territory. So there may be fights. Lots of fights. But if the get together ends while they are having fun, this is what they will remember.
Great expectations. Sometimes people can view a get together with the kids as simply that and by default, forget to reciprocate. It might be considered selfish or rude but playdates are totally optional. After all social skills can be developed almost anywhere. The park is a great place to put this to the test. The best bit? You don’t have to clean up afterwards.
It’s also ok to allow yourself a treat at the end of the day. Keep a bottle of wine in the fridge and make it your business to look at it several times over the course of the playdate. Call it the carrot on the end of the stick.
Happy play dating!