Wednesday, November 5, 2014

5 things everyone should do for a successful play date



i'm going to be real here. sometimes playdates for my kids are amazing. sometimes i wonder what in the world i was thinking. there are some children who are a pleasure to be around and others who, well, may be invited once and then never, never, never will be asked again. over the years i've developed some strategies for making playdates more manageable, for my own kids, the invited kids and for me. here are five things you can do for a successful playdate of your own.

5 things everyone should do for a successful playdate

1. recognize that the playdate is for the children. 

this one might get some people upset but i'm just going to throw this out there. playdates are for kids. there is seldom a playdate where the parents come along that result in quality adult time. it is not a playdate for adults. playdates for adults happen away from the children, preferably out enjoying great food and conversation over several uninterrupted kid-free hours. here is what i've noticed. first, children are often better behaved when they are not in the company of their parents. if you want well behaved children in your house, it can help to not have the parents there. this is just truth. kids let the worst of themselves out when their parents are around, my kids included. when the parents are gone, the kids' behavior often improves. second, kids will do anything to get your attention, especially when the grown-ups are trying to carry on adult conversations. if you want the kids to act up to have "all eyes on them," invite the parents to come over too and try to sit and talk. this is true every time. if the parents leave and you go about your day, do laundry, wash dishes, clean up, you are decidedly less appealing than if you are sitting and drinking a cup of tea while talking with the child's parent. 

trust me on this. make time for a girl's night out or a dad's night out. find times to get together as adults without children. when children are present, just focus on the kids' playdate.  give the other mother or father a break. if they have more than one child at home, offer to have all the kids over. give one mom a few hours to herself and see if she will do it for you. the kids will be better behaved, each mom will get a break, and you will all be happier for it.

2. establish house rules.

this happens as soon as a new child enters the door (and their parent leaves.) i have all the kids gather around and establish what is expected of them in my house. i usually begin by explaining that i know every house has different rules but there are some rules that are always going to be true for this house. i establish that if children want to play in my house, they have to obey these rules. i'll also let them all know that i know they can follow all the rules because they are so very smart and capable (this usually goes a long way in encouraging them on to good behavior.) some of my house rules include: 
  • if you make a mess, you have to clean it up. if you make a mess in one room, you have to clean it up before you move to another place to play. 
  • if you want me, you need to come and talk to me to my face. there won't be any yelling for me to come running. 
  • we will use kind words and actions.
  • there will be one snack time. one. i'll say when it is so you don't need to ask.
it is always amazing to me how kids rise to the occasion. they are used to having good behavior and behavioral expectations in other locations, whether it be church, school or somewhere else. they generally behave as good or as bad as is expected of them. clear expectations make everyone's life easier.

3. establish a set snack time.

this one goes along with number two. i don't love having kids ask for food every five minutes of a two hour playdate. i set a specific time for snack. the snack is picked out ahead of time and everyone will get the same thing at the appointed time. when i establish this in my rules and then follow through, magically the questions lesson or even cease. it is worth a little prior planning and preparation. it is also very worth having drinks prepared and available all the time. if the kids are using sippy cups, i have those out and ready. if they are drinking out of regular cups, i have those out, filled and labeled. it solves a world of problems and opens the door for me to enjoy the time the kids are in my house.

4. make sure everyone knows where to find the potty.

this pretty much has to start the home tour. step one: i show them where the bathroom is. step two: i show them where the soap is. step three: i let them know they don't need to ask to use the bathroom. they can just go. if i do this at the beginning of a playdate it stops big playdate issues before they start.

5. don't throw a dog and pony show.

the kids are over to play...with their friends. as far as i'm concerned, that should be entertainment enough. playdates shouldn't need a bunch of television. they shouldn't need crafts. they shouldn't require my participation in play time. play dates are for the kids to play. so i let them. if my child or another child comes up to me and says, "we don't have anything to do" or "what are we supposed to play with." i'll usually come back with the response, "well, if you're done playing, i'm happy to call your mom to come and get you." or "i'm happy to call so-and-so's mom to come and get them." that usually is all it takes. if i throw that out there, the kids will magically find something to play with. i need to remember, this is not about me. it is not a measure of my parenting if i don't dress up with the kids or spend my afternoon making sock puppets. these are play-dates. play. and the date isn't with me, it's with my child. kids are great at playing if we just let them. i try to take a step back and take advantage of having my children occupied with someone else. 

that's it! this is by no means the only way to make playdates successful but these tips certainly help to both keep my sanity and to let the kids enjoy their time as well. if i accompany the date and the instruction with a ton of praise and affirmation, i am usually pleasantly surprised at how well kids do...and how enjoyable playdates can be for me as well.