Playdate Survival Skills

by Abby on May 20, 2011

Kids fighting over toyWhen I say a big reason I had a second child is to avoid playdates, I’m only half kidding. A built-in playmate – no coordinating calendars, accommodating weird food preferences, and pretending to like their parents? Sold!

Soon after I became a mom, I realized playdates were potential minefields. (See “A Playdate Primer.”) At best, you spend a fun morning with friends. At worst, you’re stuck having awkward conversation with a stranger, disciplining their child, and watching helplessly as the kids ransack your house and the clock ticks on. If you must schedule a playdate, however, here are some hard-earned tips for making it as painless as possible:

Set a time limit. I said it before and I’ll say it again: define the parameters of the playdate beforehand. You know how when you’re dating and you’re not sure about the guy so you suggest meeting for drinks so you don’t get sucked into a 3-hour dinner if he turns out to be a loser?

Same goes for playdates. Mid-morning or late-afternoon is perfect because with lunch or dinner looming, there’s a built-in time limit. (Just make sure they don’t think you’re feeding them if you’re not!)

We’ve had a few playdates that just dragged on and on. One time my son flopped on the couch and moaned, “Is his mom here YET?” Wishful thinking for you and me both, sweetie. A superlong playdate is too much for everyone involved. I say for preschoolers, keep it to 2-3 hours at most; less for toddlers.

Consider the menu. Did I ever tell you about the child who refused my delicious homemade mac & cheese because of the suspicious “black stuff” in it? (That’s called pepper, kid.) OK, no biggie, I have picky eaters, too. But then s/he didn’t want jelly on his/her PB&J, but didn’t tell me until AFTER I’d already made it, so I had to make the NEXT sandwich with the last remaining piece of bread in the house, which happened to be the heel, and at this point the child was practically in tears.

Another parent of a particularly picky eater said she always sends her daughter on playdates with her own food. BRILLIANT!

I coached my son before his last lunchtime playdate: “So what do you say if you’re thirsty?”

“Can I have a drink, please?”

“And what do you say if they give you a sandwich with the crusts on?”

“Can you cut the crusts off, please?” (I was going for “eat it anyway,” but I’ll accept that answer.)

I certainly don’t expect little kids to eat whatever’s served to them with a smile (how many grownups do you even know who do that?) but most moms get enough of the short-order cook treatment from their own offspring, thank you very much.

Suggest a drop-off playdate. I LOVE drop-off playdates, now that my son is old enough. (Depends on the kid, but I’d say around age 4.) If it’s at the other kid’s house, you have a few blessed hours of freedom. If it’s at your house, you can get stuff done while the kids play, if all goes well. If it goes badly, you’re stuck mediating arguments over whose turn it is to play with the Bat mobile, but at least you don’t have to make small talk for hours with another mom you barely know.

Now if only I could figure out a way to have someone take BOTH my kids off my hands for an afternoon…

READ O’ THE WEEK: Jen Singer’s “8 Signs the Playdate Should End.” Funny because it’s true.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Malia Jacobson May 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Ha! I organize a playgroup and I can attest to all of these tips. I’m completely over preschooler playdates–the fighting, the refereeing, the way they wind each other up! Let the preschool teachers deal with that stuff! When we do have them, we often meet at public places (so we can leave whenever we need to). But I do love scheduling “baby” playdates for my younger daughter while my 4yo is at school. The babies can toddle around “playing” while the moms sip coffee and chat, no loud big kids to police. I’m enjoying this phase while I can!

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Abby May 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm

That is something I don’t do nearly enough. I use the time I have w/ just the baby dragging him around on errands. Poor second child…

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Jennifer Larson May 20, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I, er, regularly drag my younger child to run errands when my older son is at a drop-off playdate (or party). Of course, he gets dragged along all the time anyway. I often drag him along to playdates for my older child. In fact, I did that today. We met up with my son’s friends N, N’s sister, and his mom at a nearby park. N and my son ran off to play, and N’s mom and sister hung out with me and the baby. The baby probably would have preferred to be napping. Oh well. It’s a hard life, kid!

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Shannon @ AnchorMommy May 21, 2011 at 2:27 am

Oh man…I’m lucky in that most of our playdates are with MY friends who have kids. But last weekend, my husband said yes to letting a neighbor girl come over, and all she did the whole time was try to finagle her way into the house (it was a beautiful day, and I insisted that they play outside) and then she started bugging me for snacks right after I’d just made my family lunch! She probably thought I had some killer stash of fruit snacks or something…but that’s not how we do snacks in our family – it’s usually like fruit & cheese or hummus & crackers. And there was no way I was going to go back in the kitchen and start making more food for some kid that wasn’t fed before she came over! I said no repeatedly (and felt mean the whole time) and eventually she went home. Gah! Playdates. I love ’em and hate ’em.

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Kim May 21, 2011 at 3:01 am

We had our first playdate (a drop off with close friends) and my daughter did great! But I never would have thought about all of the things you wrote here, and I’m so glad I read them before we have our first playdate at our house sans their parents! Thank you 🙂

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Rachel May 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm

THANK YOU soooooo much for blogging this!!! I am struggling with play dates right now and I am just so relieved to read about other moms who go through the same thing 🙂

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Abby May 23, 2011 at 12:54 am

Jennifer & Shannon, thanks for your comments. The snacks… oh, lord, the snacks. You, too, Rachel & Kim — glad I could help! If my discomfort can help ease the way for other moms it’s all worth it. 😉

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