Have you ever looked on in horror as your toddler screams “MINE!” and snatches back his favourite toy from his friend? Or served chicken nuggets and oven chips, only to realise your new friend and her toddler ‘only eat wheat-free organic’. Negotiating the minefield that is the modern playdate isn’t always easy, so here’s how to keep things as stress-free as possible.
If you’re the host…
- Give a start and end time to the playdate, so everyone knows where they stand.
- Keep it short, especially a first playdate: an hour and a half is plenty.
- Two’s company, three’s a crowd: this also holds true for toddlers.
- Put away favourite toys to avoid disputes, and keep the toy selection small, or you’ll spend the following three hours tidying up (tots will up-end everything on offer).
- Timetable in some structured activity, like a Play-Doh session or some bubble blowing – a handy distraction if things get tetchy.
- Give a healthy snack halfway through the ‘date’ – a chopped up banana and a cup of milk for example – to minimise low blood sugar-related meltdowns.
- If you go for a full-on tea date, ask the tot’s mum what his favourite food is and serve that.
- Avoid leaving the playmates alone. Being responsible for someone else’s child feels even more serious than being in charge of your own! Other kids may not understand a danger that your own child is familiar with.
- The family pet may seem harmless to you, but might scare your little visitor, so pop him in another room or outside if possible.
- Just because you like the mum, it doesn’t mean the kids will get on. Sad but true.
If you’re the visitor…
- Make sure you turn up roughly on time, and pick up your toddler exactly on time if you’re ‘disappearing’.
- Offer to help tidy up (or better still help the tots to tidy up) at the end.
- If the children don’t hit it off, call it a day and try again another time in a neutral space like a playground. It could be an issue of territory, or tiredness, rather than personality.
- Make allowances: not everyone will follow your high standards regarding junk food or behaviour.
Why playdates are good for your toddler…
- They teach social skills and sharing – though very young children won’t be able to share as nicely as we’d like.
- They get your tot used to getting along with others.
- Playing with other kids boosts confidence, and watching you being sociable is a great way for them to learn those essential skills.
- He’ll make firm friends with the kids he hangs out with regularly.
…and for you
- They will keep you sane: there’s nothing as reassuring as spending time with other mums going through the same challenges as you. And social gatherings stop life getting boring. Toddlers are lovely, but we all need some adult company too.