Perfect play dates
Pitfalls and pleasures
WHERE DO THEY PLAY?
Play dates usually take place at your house, but you can also arrange to meet at a park, in a coffee shop with a play area or even at a restaurant. Make a point of always asking if there are dogs, a pool or a fishpond somewhere in the garden.
If you don’t know the parents, it’s a good plan to go along on the first play date, even if you only stay for half an hour. See if you’re comfortable with the set-up. Trust your instinct! If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your child alone, don’t. This will become more of an issue later: under-threes rarely stay at another home without their parents.
Don’t take someone else’s child somewhere without first checking with the mom. You might think buying another child Mcdonald’s is a nice treat, while the mom would never allow it.
Exchange cell phone numbers beforehand, and make sure you have yours handy for if there’s a crisis.
A successful afternoon of play has to have a set beginning and end. Arrange a time with the friend’s mom.
For small kids of two or three, a play date should not be longer than two hours. Make sure the host knows when you’ll be fetching your child if you leave her there to play. And don’t be late!
Remember, you can also offer to take a child home after a play date, and be more in control of how long it lasts in this way.
SEND SOMETHING ALONG
It’s not really necessary to take a gift, sweets or food along on a play date, but a token of appreciation for the invitation will definitely not go unnoticed! But you really don’t have to send something each and every time your child goes to visit a friend. Items such as a punnet of strawberries or a packet of marshmallows can work, especially if your child plays at the friend’s house more often than they play at yours.
Teach your child to say thank you after a play date and also thank the parents yourself – especially if you didn’t get to see each other when you dropped and fetched the kids.
IF THINGS GO SOUTH
Not all play dates are equally successful, and sometimes children just don’t gel well. If your child lets on that she really didn’t have a good time, you can phone the mom and find out what the problem was. Don’t force her to play with a friend if she doesn’t want to.
DIFFICULT FRIENDS THE NAUGHTY ONE
Hold a naughty child close for a while and chat calmly about the day at school so that you can distract her from whatever it was that caused the naughty behaviour.
Also make sure that the friend knows the house rules. Give examples: jumping on the furniture is not allowed and neither is throwing balls in the house, and your study is out of bounds for playing. Naughty friends should be held to the same rules in your house as your own children.
THE CRYING ONE
A specific activity can often be to blame for the friend’s unhappiness. Always tell a weepy child that she can phone her mama as soon as she feels she needs to talk to her or rather wants to go home. A child mustn’t think she’s being kept at her friend’s house against her will.
THE HUNGRY ONE
Offer healthy snacks like fruit skewers, and have the children thread the cubes themselves. The idea with the skewers works well, as it keeps the kids busy, and they enjoy showing off their handiwork. Homemade popcorn is another winner, and muffins are a tasty alternative to decorated cupcakes.
THE NOISY ONE
Concentrate on quiet activities to calm down a noisy, boisterous child. Water is very calming: a tea set or big tub of water outside with buckets, boats and watering cans works like a charm. A big ball of clay and rolling pins and cookie cutters is also a calming activity that will make them sit still.
It’s also clever not to limit the children to one room for the whole play date. Plan different activities in different rooms. YB