The Joy of the Play Date

Between jam-packed schedules and the personal safety issues of modern life, it is next to impossible for the modern child to just go outside and play with friends. With soccer programs starting at 2 years old and that scary "Registered Sex Offender Database" app on everyone's smart phone, the casual pick-up format for playing is a thing of the past.  Enter the new model: the play date.  But how do you develop a play date buddy?

One key factor in choosing a play date buddy is compatibility.  Both children and parents must be compatible.  If possible, observe the intended play date child as they go about the serious business of having fun.  Are they attracted to the same kinds of things your child enjoys?  Similarly, does it seem like the parent has the same general approach to child rearing as you?  Only if everyone is on the same page can this joining of two families possibly succeed.

Start your play date experience with something easy and, ideally, public.  Maybe you can meet at a playground or Chucky Cheese so that the parents can spend some relaxed time chatting while the kids romp.  This is the time to discuss some important issues.  Are there any allergies or religious restrictions that should be known?  How are house rules enforced? What kind of attention span does each child have, so that the play date can be over before everyone is bored with each other.  If you haven't already, be sure to exchange cell phone numbers at this point.  A little ground work now can really pay dividends later.

Once that awkward "first date" is out of the way, it is time to get more serious.  Now is the time to propose a house visit.  Agree on location, starting and ending times, who will drop off and pick up, and any possible snacking that could take place.  Now is the time to talk about any separation anxiety that the child may have as they watch their parent drive away, leaving them in a strange home. 

If you are hosting, be sure to cover your house rules after you welcome your guests.  Talk about some options for that all-important first activity, too, so that the children can jump right into something and skip over that "I don't care, what do you want to do?" phase that can make the minutes crawl.  Once the children are engaged, back off and just keep an eye on them from a distance.  This is their play date, so let them build some social skills without hovering over them.

If you are the "away team" for the play date, be sure that you have reinforced your "best guest behavior" rules with your child on the drive over to the host's home.  Your child should be healthy, clean, rested and fed.  Once you arrive, reconfirm your cell phone number and return time.  Be sure that your child is clear about your return time, too, so that there aren't any issues there.

Chances are, the play date will go so well that you will blow past your "time to clean up" time and welcome the visiting parent into your home with the children still happily ignoring you.  Before they notice you, reflect on the great time everyone had and schedule your next play date!  If this keeps up, you may get some time for yourself.  Don't have someone for a play date?  Check out the "Children's Play Dates" activity and find others near you who are ready for a play date, too.

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