As my daughter, Ali, and I walked home from school, three weeks into first grade, she said to me, “I made a new friend. Her name is Hannah; she wants to have a play date.”
Play date. I had heard of them before, but since Ali is my oldest child, this was the first time I was actually asked to plan one. In my day, I would just run down the block to my friend’s house, and my mom would whistle from the front porch when it was time to come back. I have planned two-day conferences at work, put together dinner parties and hosted events, so how hard could a play date be?
I called the child’s mom, and we decided to meet at the park (which was a lot better than having to clean my house, so they wouldn’t see the mess).
Believe it or not, there are actually rules to follow to make sure you and your little one have a great play date — and save yourself from being the family that people talk about.
• Try and meet somewhere neutral for the first time. A park, library story time, a walk, or a kid-friendly café are great public places to meet, so you can get to know the other parent before she comes into your home.
• Be on time. I’m sure your child will be counting down the minutes in anticipation, and so will her new friend, so don’t make the children, and the other parent, suffer by being tardy. (It’s also a good time to teach your child how to tell time.)
• Bring a snack. Always make sure to ask the other parent beforehand if her child has any food allergies. You wouldn’t want to bring some strawberries and have the other child watch as yours finishes them alone. If the play date is at your home, have some coffee or tea for the other parent and vice versa: if you are invited, bring a snack.
• Speak to your child about manners. Good afternoon, please, thank you, etc. Explain to her that she is a guest in her friend’s home, and she must behave. No running or screaming inside, and when the play date is over, she must help clean up.
• Sharing can sometimes become an issue, especially with little ones, so be prepared. If there are some toys that are very special to your child, or expensive collectables that shouldn’t be played with, put them away. Be aware that you will eventually run into another parent who hasn’t learned to share and doesn’t think her child should, either.
• A play date should not last all day. You have a life to get back to. One hour for the first date is fine — as you get to know each other, you can slightly increase the time.
Make sure the pick-up time is clear to the other parent. Some think this is a baby-sitting service and will leave you with their kid for hours — so having a phone number is a good idea. If the play date is at their house, make sure that you are on time for the pick-up.
Keep in mind: play dates are not for parents. Unless you are invited to stay, don’t. I once had a mom drop her daughter off then settle into my couch and ask for something to eat. She stayed for three hours, and I had to entertain her the entire time. (I now pretend I’m in a rush when I see her and have never invited her child back to my house again.)
• Kids and cars. I, personally, do not want my child in anyone else’s car. Some people don’t mind. Before you decide to run errands with extra little ones in tow, make sure you have the other parent’s permission, and let her know how you feel about your kids getting in her car. I dropped my younger daughter off one time at her friend’s house and when I picked her up two hours later, I found out she had been all over town, running errands with her friend and her mom — without her booster seat! They even went to Queens to pick up a family member. Needless to say, after speaking to the other parent, I never sent her there again.
The most important thing is that your child learns how to interact positively with other children and play. After a while, you will get the hang of play dates, and then you can start reading articles to prepare yourself for when your little angel begins to go on real dates.
Alexandra Espinal lives in East New York, Brooklyn, where she is a mom to two girls, a dog named Chellita, a cat named Feathers, and a bearded dragon named Sandy.