By Guest Blogger Michelle Barson

After welcoming your child into the world, you may find yourself feeling isolated and alone. You’ve spent a few months taking care of your little one around the clock, but inevitably you will begin to crave adult conversations and seek out family-centered activities.  Play dates are a great option for any parent, but especially the stay-at-home parent who has many hours to fill and a little one with hours of energy to burn.

For those not yet familiar, play dates are a scheduled get together with another parent or parents and their children. Often, they are conducted at the home of one of the parents but may also take the form of a meet up at an agreed upon location.  When inviting a new friend and their child(ren) into your home or going to theirs there are considerations to be made – some obvious and some not so obvious. Here are ten tips to help with your first play date or a first play date with new friends.

playdate21. Timing

Timing is everything when it comes to play date success.  Make sure the time works for all children involved as it relates to other activities such as preschool, swim lessons and naps. Try to avoid days where the children already have a lot on their plate.  More than two scheduled items for children five and under can be exhausting for both the parent and child(ren) and can create more ‘disagreeable’ attitudes. The most popular days are Monday through Friday at either 9:00am, 9:30am or 3:30pm or 4:00pm.  Play dates should range from one hour and max out around two.  It can take time for kids to get comfortable and start playing so you don’t want to leave without giving them a chance to socialize.  On the other hand, past two hours can potentially burden other parents with a to-do list that day, as well as burn out the kids.

2. Activities

Plan what the play date will look like, but not too much. Free play is so valuable to developing brains.  Parents who want more structured play will most likely seek it out elsewhere so just let the kids explore and enjoy new-to-them toys and avoid the stress, cost and time it can take to invest into creating multiple activity options.  Perhaps determine where the kids will play. For instance, backyard, front yard, play room, basement, etc.  That said, if older children are being dragged along on a younger siblings’ play date try and have some unique options for them such as coloring, puzzles, or play doh.  Something simple.

If you are ready to get out of the house, you can always find many kid-friendly events  on the TMoM calendar HERE as well as a list of groups HERE where you might find on-going play date groups.

3. What to Bring

When going to a play date, especially in the early stages of friendship, try to come fully prepared with diapers, wipes, snacks, beverages and other diaper-bag necessities based on age.  As the friendships between children and parents blossom it becomes much easier to borrow as needed knowing that it will be easy to return the favor upon the change of venue to your own home.

playdate54. House Rules

For the Guest: Try your best to appreciate and understand that everyone runs their home a little differently. Be a good guest by asking if things your children are doing that are questionable (jumping on the couch for instance) is okay or a big no-no.  Try and assist in the clean-up effort before leaving. This is nearly impossible in most instances, but everyone appreciates the attempt and any bit of help.

For the Host: Hide toys that are special to your own child.  For instance, often a luvy or a blanket are considered special toys and your child will become upset if someone else touches it. Place it in a space where it is not visible to either child.

If you have any “house rules” such as ‘no jumping on the couch’ or ‘no slamming doors’ or ‘no wearing shoes in doors’ make sure you implement them on the first play date to set the expectation. No need to announce them, but if they are broken then address it quickly. Until you are better friends try to only address the other parent about anything their child is doing that displeases you such as hitting, biting, stealing toys or any of your house rules. It may be your home, but that is not your child.

The House Always Wins. Except in the instance of play dates.  Know that your home is going to be mildly destroyed.  Hopefully, it’s all just a mess that can be easily picked up, wiped away or scrubbed down, but there is a chance something in your home will be damaged. Accept it now or don’t bother inviting any friends over today or ever.

5. Multiple Children, Multiple Ages

It’s true what they say, “More Children, More Problems.”  Well that’s not exactly the saying, but it holds true in this instance.  Be cognizant of how many children you have over and the varying ages of the children (thus their varying needs and interests). Invite just one to three families over.  If it is a fledgling relationship perhaps just the new friend and maybe, if the ages really line up, one other friend.  This way the children can be eased into a new location with new people and not be completely overwhelmed.  It also helps the new parent to not feel like a fifth wheel.

playdate36. Conversations

For new play dates, this is a tricky area.  Obviously, there was something you both liked about one another in addition to having children the same ages, but like any new relationship avoid standard, hot-button topics like politics and religion and for a more complete list click here.

7. Baby Proof

No really. Baby proof, toddler proof, adult proof EVERYTHING.  The things your child no longer bares an interest in may strike a new interest with their friends so protect the things you love, or that can injure another, by going above and beyond.  Some items to consider:

~ Outlets
~ Stairs
~ Door handles
~ Drawers and cabinets
~ Rocking chairs
~ Low hanging pictures or other wall décor
~ Light switches within reach
~ Removing from reach – laptops, tablets, remote controls, jewelry, car keys, etc.

Consider locking refrigerator doors, oven doors and covering stove knobs. Not just for safety, but for your own sanity.  No one wants to walk around saying, “no” the entire play date or worry about ruining someone else’s home.

8. Snacks and Allergies

As the host be sure to have plenty of snacks available.  Have milk, juice and age-appropriate snacks (and plenty of containers for both) to go around in the case of melt-downs or actual hunger and thirst. Remember, whatever one kids has they WILL ALL WANT so don’t give anything out that you don’t have plenty of.

playdate4Always ASK before you serve any food or beverage to the group.  Food allergies are extremely dangerous, even when not consumed.  You also want to ask in case of family dietary restrictions or in the instance they just don’t want their child to have anything close to another meal.

As the attendee, if your child has a highly restrictive diet or prefers foods that others may not necessarily think to have on hand – bring them! This way your child isn’t left out of having a snack or drink and the host isn’t put in the awkward position of not being able to offer something to them.

9. Time Out Spots

Have a designated timeout spot. Don’t announce it, but be sure to offer it up to your guest if they are struggling with disciplining their child.  I prefer the bottom stair, a dining room chair or a short hallway.  It should be a place that is safe, visible to parents, without being a high-traffic area.  I know it’s hard to find a good one, but try. Taking a time out can help to diffuse a situation or relieve a parent.

10. Pets

Prior to your new friends coming over share what pets you have and ask if there are any concerns from the other parents.  In addition to allergies, some children (and adults) are very scared of even the nicest, household pets.  If you have any concerns about your own pet and how they may behave around new children or in a play date scenario remove them prior to it.  Put them someplace they feel safe and happy and where the children can’t harass or scare them as well.  Pets, like children, are unpredictable. Always error on the side of caution.

Do you have other play date tips you can add to this list?