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Helpful Hints for Play Dates

After posting my recent entry encouraging
new moms to get out there and find some play dates, I had a couple
moms confess to me that the idea of play dates intimidates them. I
can completely understand that; it’s just like the whole
playground thing, where you’re approaching a new group of
people and know there must be rules but don’t know what they
are. And above all, you don’t want to either offend someone
or leave the impression that you’re a bad mom.

The good news is that we’re all that insecure, so if
you’re having a new friend over for a play date she is just
as nervous as you are! But just to help you gals out, I’ve
written out some basic guidelines that may help you steer through
your first few play dates like a pro. Lest you think I made these
up, rest assured that I sought advice from my more experienced
girlfriends before I set out on my first play dates. So these are
the result of many voices of wisdom!

First, have a start and end time.
The start time’s easy to confirm; the end time can be
trickier. If you have an idea in your head that the other mom will
magically know that your child’s nap time is approaching,
think again. Clarifying ahead of time – say, a simple
sentence like, “10:30 would be a perfect start time. That
gives us an hour and a half before our kids need to head to their
lunches and naps.” – will keep you from stressing about
your little ticking time bomb.

Don’t overstay your welcome. If you’re visiting,
stick to the agreed-upon end time, even if your tot is having fun.
And if the hosting child has a major meltdown, you can either stick
it out and hang around or gracefully exit to take pressure off the
other mom. I recommend sticking it out only if you’re good
friends with the other mom; otherwise she may be self-conscious
making discipline decisions in front of you.

As a general rule, the host usually provides snacks. If play
time encompasses a snack time (and they usually do), be prepared to
offer easy, light snacks. Try to be sensitive to other kids, and
avoid common allergy foods like strawberries unless you know the
other child’s ok with it. Snack time is also not the time to
show off how your daughter loves to snack on cooked eggplant; stick
to generic, kid-friendly snacks until you get a feel for the other
child’s tastes. At the same time, try to be healthy and avoid
serving all cookies and soda in case other parents are going the
no-sugar route.

If you’re not the host, lighten up about the snacks.
If someone else is providing snacks, this is not the place to
lecture on the evils of unrefined sugar. Try to go with the
healthiest offering and be discreet about it; after all, this woman
is giving you free food. We give Maddie these Kashi crackers that
are organic and whole grain, but I’m not going to slap my
daughter’s hands or be ungrateful if a friend offers her
goldfish crackers. It’s just a cracker. I can politely
decline the chocolate chip cookies and still keep my daughter from
starving at most people’s homes. The obvious exception to
this, of course, is allergies. If your child is allergic to a lot
of different foods, bring your own snacks and save your hostess the
stress. And if someone’s serving sushi to an 18-month-old,
obviously it’s not rude to say no to the raw fish.

Bring your own drinks. This is just my personal opinion
here; many moms are happy to provide juice boxes or extra sippy
cups and I certainly am willing if needed. I always bring
Maddie’s water and milk, partly because she used to have to
drink soy milk, partly because I don’t give her juice, and
partly because I don’t want other moms to have to worry about
my toddler spreading germs to their kid. Maddie knows her cups by
sight and doesn’t pick other cups up (except her friend
Naomi’s, because they have the same cup and frankly they
share everything. But that was just one time. Sorry about that
again, Ingrid.)

Cancel the date if your child is sick. In the midst of a
long string of cold weather forcing you indoors, you look forward
to those red-letter days that get you out of the house and into a
play date. The last thing you want to see is a runny nose that
morning, I know, and you’ll be tempted to ignore it and
pretend it’s not there. Do your friend a favor, and
she’ll stay your friend – cancel the date. You’d
want her to do the same thing if the situation was reversed. Of
course, if both kids are sick with the same cold, then go at it!

Pack up some toys. If you’re hosting, survey the house
and look for three key categories: first are the ones that will
severely traumatize your child if she sees them played with by
anyone else. Maddie will share her Elmos, but only because
she’s got more than one now. You probably won’t know
what these trigger toys are until after your first play date.
Sorry. Second are the toys that make too much of a mess. My
daughter has a box of canning jar lids that she loves to dump and
put back in the box (I know, I know). I don’t have the energy
to deal with that over and over. Ditto for the 1,000 piece puzzles,
etc. If you’ve got a kitchen with tons of play food, several
sets of leggos, a train set, and so on, pack some of it away and
save yourself the hours of cleanup afterwards. And third are the
toys that might prove too popular in general. My girlfriend Abby
always “parks” her son’s push-car in her bedroom
during a play date because it inspires too many fights between
other kids.

Lay out the house rules at the beginning. If you’ve
got some iron-clad rules in your household, it’s ok to expect
them to be upheld during a play date. Explaining to your friend
that you don’t stand on the furniture, turn on the
television, eat in the bedroom, whatever, is perfectly reasonable.
Just be nice about it.

Be prepared to relax on the house rules. All I mean is, be
selective so you don’t come across as a real pain in the butt
to hang out with. You may have a rule that only one book can be out
at a time, for example – during the play date, let it go.

Clean up. If you’re not hosting,
make sure you include clean-up time as part of the play date. It
teaches your child to pick up after himself, and makes your friend
like you that much more.

Reciprocate the invitation. Unless there’s a real
space issue or something, try not to let the burden of a play date
fall on the same person all the time. During the summer, Naomi
always came to our house because we have a kiddie pool. During the
winter, we take turns heading back and forth; no one wants to have
to bundle up every day for a play date. Be fair.

That’s what I’ve got; if you have some tips or pet
peeves of your own, feel free to post below. With a little bit of
understanding, you’ll get through this play date thing just
fine and a couple of months from now you’ll be wondering what
you were ever worried about. And p.s., these are obviously for
toddler-aged play dates. If we’re talking about play dates
between three-month-olds, it’s not a play date; it’s an
excuse for girlfriends to hang out and sympathize with each other.
Bring on the cookies and root beer.


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