When your child first asks if Johnny can “come round for tea” (that’s what it was called in my day) you may well come out in a cold sweat. What if Johnny doesn’t actually like my child and doesn’t want to come? What if Johnny’s Mummy has seen me on the school run on one of the days I haven’t brushed my hair and has judged us unworthy? Will this involve me having to provide childcare for my child and someone else’s all by myself? Is it acceptable to feed them biscuits for snack or should I be offering a platter of (sliced) grapes and carrot sticks?
If that sounds like you, mop your brow and take a seat while we discuss uk play date etiquette. To get you started, here’s a summary of the key rules of playdate etiquette:
- Offer to stay with your child – particularly if they are young or it’s a first play date
- Take off your shoes – and make sure your child does too
- Keep it short, two hours max – but less for the younger ones
- Feed them something (but not loads of sugar!) – Make sure you ask about allergies
- If the kids are rubbing each other up the wrong way or misbehaving, suggest a new activity – If in doubt, try and get them outside
- Always reply to invitations – even if it’s no, you MUST reply
- Return the favour with an invite back – Parents take a dim view of invites not being reciprocated
- If you’re hosting And the other parent is staying, make sure you offer tea/coffee – Or something stronger If you know them well enough!
- If your child has a special toy they don’t like to share, put it away before the play date – this can save a lot of upset
- Never Bring a Sick Child to a play date – Unless it’s a chicken pox party and they are the guest of honour
What is a Playdate?
Ah the play date (or playdate? Not sure and the rest of the Internet doesn’t seem to be either). Without doubt a modern term, invented to describe how we allow our children to socialise now that we don’t just kick them out in the morning with instructions to be home for dinner.
Nowadays parenting involves carefully curating our children’s social lives with “play dates” booked in at mutually convenient times that fit around the kid’s piano practice and the hell that is swimming lessons.
At What Age are Playdates Important?
Before the age of 3, playdates are really for the parents. Until then, most children have little interest in playing with children of their own age. Playdates can often be useful before children start at a preschool as a way of giving them a familiar face for the first day but it will depend on the child. My oldest really had no interest in playing with other children until he was 4 but my youngest really enjoyed playdates at 3.
Once children start school playdates are useful as a way to cement the friendships they make during the school day. if your child is struggling to make friends then hosting some playdates can help them to develop bonds with other children. If you and your child are not interested in play dates, don’t feel that you have to do them. It won’t make them social lepers, my kids have some friends that do playdates and some that don’t, they like them all the same.
While some children enjoy playdates and they can be beneficial, your child isn’t going to be disadvantaged if they don’t do them.
Invite Play Date Etiquette – How to Ask for a Play Date
The invite can happen in a few ways. Your child might come home and say “can so and so come round to play?” In that case you’re going to be the one who makes the invite. You have a couple of choices here. You can sidle up to the kid’s parent in the playground and, casually now, so as not to scare them off, ask if their little cherub would like to come to play. That only works if said child’s parents do the school run AND you know who they are. To avoid inviting the wrong child to play, make sure you know which child belongs to which parent. I would also suggest familiarising yourself with the school childminders so you don’t embarrass yourself by asking them round.
If the parent isn’t on the school run but you have their number or are friends with them on some kind of social media, you can message them. As an introvert, this is my preferred method of contact. It takes the pressure off and gives them time to come up with an excuse if they have already deemed your child an unworthy friend for their precious offspring. Whatever you do, don’t phone them. No one needs that, it’s the opposite of good play date etiquette.
The other thing that happens is your child comes out having arranged a playdate with another child without actually informing you. Good luck sorting that out.
How to Politely Say No to a Play Date
If you’re on the receiving end of an invite, lucky you, your child is popular. You’ll now spend the rest of their childhood ferrying them to endless play dates and parties. If your child doesn’t want to go on the play date (or you are the super judgey mum who has deemed the other child as unworthy) then you could say you have other plans at the specified time. The risk is that if they are the persistent type they may well offer an alternative. A better plan is to say something vague about having a lot going on at the moment and you will get in touch when things quieten down. Hopefully they’ll get the message when you don’t.
Should Parents Stay for Playdates?
As an introvert parent who doesn’t really like kids, play dates with new parents are my worst nightmare. I either have to make small talk with an adult for two hours or look after someone else’s child as well as my own for two hours. Neither of these are options I like.
If it’s a first playdate and your kids are in the infants (year R, 1 or 2) play date etiquette says you should probably stay.
Some kids are super independent. If your child really doesn’t want you to then you can ask the other parent if that’s ok but I wouldn’t assume it’s acceptable to expect them to look after your child. If the kid’s playdates become a regular thing you might all prefer it if the parents don’t stay. This can mean both adults get a bit of peace and quiet on a semi regular basis.
Once you’ve got older kids (year 3 upwards) etiquette will vary more. It’s likely you’ll know the parents at least a bit by then (assuming you haven’t moved schools) so you might feel ok to leave them and as they are older, they are easier to look after. Some children might still prefer you stay and some adults might still enjoy the company so you may have to negotiate it between you all.
How to Host a Playdate
If you want to host the perfect playdate there are some things you should take into account when planning. It’s important to be clear about the parameters of the playdate in advance. Make sure that the other parent knows if you are expecting them to stay with they child or leave them with you. If you don’t mind either way, ask them what they would prefer.
Be clear about the start time, if it’s after school, say if you’ll pick them up from school, if the children are younger then say what time they should arrive. If the child is staying with you without a parent then be clear about how they will be getting home. Either say you will bring them home at a certain time or ask for them to be picked up at certain time.
You should also be clear about which meals you’ll be providing, is it just a snack or will you be giving them dinner. If you’re feeding them, ask about dietary requirements or preferences in advance too.
Things to Do at a Play Date
So, you’ve successfully got another child to your house, now what are you going to do with them? Lots of children won’t need structured activities and will be happy pottering about doing their own thing. Having said that, it’s good to have some ideas ready if things don’t seem to be going well.
An activity they can do together but separately is handy if they aren’t getting on brilliantly. Something like Lego, drawing or play doh works well. If the weather is good I’d definitely suggest the garden if you have one, children generally seem to be happier outside. You might find some of these hands on activity ideas useful
If things are really fraught then you might need to play with them, something like a board game, so you’re on hand the step in if need be.
If you feel like you should provide some kind of structured entertainment then getting them involved with the food preparation, like topping their own pizza or decorating cup cakes for a snack can work well.
For older children, video games on a playdate can be a bit of a minefield. I accidentally introduced one of my children’s friends to Fortnite. I was so used to my kids playing it that I forgot that they weren’t actually at the suggested age for it. Luckily the parent was fine with it but I make sure I message parents in advance now if the children want to play anything more violent than Mario Cart.
Food on a Play Date
When you make or accept the invite, you’ll want to be clear about what food is going to be involved. As young children tend to eat early, play dates will often include dinner. If you’re hosting you should at the very least provide a snack, because hangry children do not play nicely. If you aren’t sure what to offer, try asking what they usually have for snack and offer similar. This will make sure you’re covered for dietary requirements and food allergies too.
If they’re staying for dinner it’s best to ask what they eat. As the parent of a child who only eats pizza, I try to avoid eating at other peoples houses as I feel bad dictating what they serve for dinner but to be honest I’ve never had anyone react badly when I’ve had to fess up to just how picky my child is.
It’s likely that, when asked, the other parent will claim that their child “will eat anything”. This will not be true. Don’t take it as gospel and go and cook them a gourmet meal. When the parent says “eats anything” they mean anything beige that comes from the freezer section in Tescos. Tell them what you’re planning so they have a chance to say “anything except that”.
Play Date Etiquette for Managing behaviour
If you are looking after someone else’s child on a play date this can put you in the awkward position of having to discipline someone else’s child. You just need to do enough to stop the behaviour. Keep it light and try and distract them with another activity. In your best Mary Poppins voice: “Oh no, we mustn’t pull the cat’s tail, let’s go and play in the garden instead”.
How to End a Playdate
It’s usually best to plan for the end of the playdate before it starts. This is easier when children are being left with you as you can plan a drop off/collection time. If they aren’t, it’s useful to mention in advance a reason why you’ll need them out of the house by a certain time. If they aren’t staying for dinner you can say you need to get the dinner started by 5 or you have to take your child to Beavers at 6. If you haven’t planned ahead you can do this casually on the day by looking at the clock and saying “goodness, look at that, it’s nearly time to get the dinner”.
You can start to take plates and cups out to the kitchen, tidy up the toys or talk to the children about winding down. Most parents will take the hint at this point.
Play Date Etiquette for Guests
Being a good playdate guest will help to ensure you/your child gets invited back. The first step to being a good guest is to reply promptly to the invitation. If your child has any issues the host should know about, like dietary requirements or pet allergies, you should share those as soon as possible too.
What Should I Bring to a Playdate?
If you’re attending a playdate where you will be staying, it can be nice to bring something with you but isn’t essential. A treat for you and the host to enjoy when the kids aren’t looking is nice, fancy biscuits is a safe choice, wine is a possibility if you know them well enough and it’s after midday.
The Core of Play Date Etiquette: Behaviour
Whether you are staying or going, it’s natural to worry about how your little one will behave on a play date. The essential rules if your child is playing at someone else’s house are:
- Take your shoes of when you arrive
- Don’t play with things that aren’t toys
- Do what the host parent says
- Don’t harass the pets
- Don’t eat anything you haven’t been offered
- If anything makes you uncomfortable ask to go home
The younger the children the more likely there are to be tears. They haven’t yet developed the social skills to play nicely for extended periods of time. The best way to avoid this is to keep playdates fairly short. Just an hour if they are new friends and under 6. This way you can usually end it on a high before they get tired and ratty.
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
As we’ve discussed, young children only need short playdates and even when they are a bit older, two hours is usually enough. if you are expecting tears when it’s time to say goodbye, it’s useful to give your child a warning when it’s nearly time to go so that it doesn’t come as a complete shock. I also used to talk to my children in advance of playdates reminding them that if they didn’t leave nicely when it was time they wouldn’t be invited back.
You should always offer to help tidy up at the end of the playdate, most hosts will refuse until they know you well but keep offering.
Returning the Favour
If your child goes to a play date at someone else’s house, playdate etiquette is to return the invite. You don’t have to but, you will be judged and likely your child will stop getting invited (which may well be your goal). If it was really awful experience that you don’t want to repeat, your child or the other child behaved awfully, the other parent was unbearable etc, make comments about setting up a return date but accidentally forget to ever actually do it.
What happens if your child goes on a play date but you really don’t want to host one at your house? Maybe you have difficult pets/other children/are a carer etc or might be living in difficult circumstances. You can suggest a meet up elsewhere, at the park or soft play. This way the children still get to hang out.
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