by Christy Laverty
Ah the play date. It can be a parent’s saviour or worst nightmare. There is no avoiding them it seems these days, play dates are king.
I don’t know about you but I have found the whole play date thing a huge learning curve. I didn’t have these kind of play dates when I was a kid. We didn’t set up play dates; we just played with friends, or played with other kids in the neighbourhood.
Now play dates are events. Kids plan them while they are in school and ambush their parents on the playground . If you are really organized, they are even scheduled days in advance.
Then there is all the talk and planning about what the kids are going to do on said play date? Like playing, just playing, isn’t really an option, something big needs to be planned.
And then there is the politics of play dates (as I like to call it); who is playing with whom, Moms you don’t know, or don’t like. Yes I said it. Let’s be honest, just because your kids are friends you don’t have to be friends, or even like each other.
There is no doubt that if you were to talk with a group of moms, you would hear some say they love play dates and then others who say they hate them. I think it is fair to say many moms have a love-hate relationship with them.
Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, runs her own business, Core Expectations, and is a mom of two girls. She loves play dates.
“They are either out of the house so I can get some work done or it’s actually easier having friends here so my girls don’t fight – they just go away and play amongst themselves (sounds so horrible to say – I swear I love my kids!)” says Montpetit-Huynh.
Cathy*** also runs her own business and has one eight year old daughter. She has just the opposite feeling about play-dates. For her, play dates are more of a necessary evil. She can honestly say she hates play dates.
“They are just difficult. You have to entertain the kids often, there is often fighting and I never know how to discipline other peoples kids”, says Cathy. She admits she only agrees to play dates because she knows they are important to her daughter. If she had her way she would take a pass on them every time.
It is pretty difficult to completely avoid play dates. They are an important part of your child’s social life. You want your kids to have friends but play dates can be a huge inconvenience sometimes to parents. There are ways to make them work with a little planning so they are fun for everyone, even mom and dad.
Parenting expert and author Alyson Schafer, says play dates are like any other parenting situation, if you set up the rules ahead of time things will go a lot easier. Play dates for younger kids can be more work for parents. There is a lot more set up involved and work for parents at the play date.
Schafer says parents can teach younger children how to behave at play dates. It can be hard when you are sending your kids off to someone else’s house, you don’t want to have to worry your child is misbehaving at the play date.
“I treat it as an opportunity to use a logical consequence which is to say I wouldn’t do it with a cousin who you only see every two years. You want to have all the training in place so when that happens you’ve already done your hard work”, says Schafer. “It is important to artificially set up some play dates with friends. Basically this is a practice run so everyone learns what is expected of them and how play dates go.”
No matter how old your children are, Schafer says it is important to talk about expectations before the play date even starts. She says family meetings are a great way to lay everything out.
“I really recommend parents have weekly family meetings and then you can say we need to talk about putting more play dates on the agenda.” Schafer says this also helps to stop those on the fly, ambush-after-school, kind of play-dates.
Montpetit-Huynh has a few tips of her own for making play dates a lot more fun for everyone. She says it is important to arrange them in advance and be respectful of people’s time. If you say you are picking up your kids at a certain time, be on time.
“There is a father in the neighbourhood who is ALWAYS late picking up his kids (he’s a surfer dude type) and it drives my mom crazy. She is extremely punctual.” (Montpetit-Huynh’s mom looks after her kids after school.) Also, giving advance notice of food allergies, likes and dislikes instead of saying “whatever” and then your kid doesn’t eat anything is helpful.
The key to successful play dates is really in the planning. If everyone knows when play dates are and knows what is expected of them, children and parents, then everyone wins in the end. Set the rules, stick to them and have fun.
***name changed for privacy reasons
Christy Laverty is a mother and an editor for a Toronto all news radio station. She also does freelance writing for several parenting magazines. Visit Christy’s blog where she updates the trials, tribulations, and fun of being mom of two beautiful girls.