Play Date Etiquette
What to do when your house rules for your kids are different from the hosting parents' and other sticky playdate problems, solved
Playdates used to be as simple as, well, child’s play. That’s because until not so long ago, that’s all they were: a couple of kids spending a couple of hours together, shooting hoops or playing a board game while Mom (natch), a homemaker (natch again), looked in from time to time, filling the snack bowl as needed.
Fast-forward to today: Your kids’ playmates are as likely to show up with a BlackBerry as with their baseball-card collection, and you might be driven from the neighborhood if anyone finds out you served the kids chips instead of edamame. Sending your child to someone else’s home isn’t exactly a worry-free experience either. Is the mom (or dad, or the sitter...hey, who’s home, anyway?) so focused on Facebook that your 9-year-old and her pal are using the oven unsupervised to make s’mores? Is your middleschooler playing video games that belong to his pal’s older brother—or, geez, with a title like Mortal Evil Uprising IV, his parole officer? Be ready to navigate a few modern-day situations! Read on for the new rules to set you straight.
The Sitch: Your child’s old enough to stay home briefly, and often does. But is it okay to leave her and her playmate home while you dash to the dry cleaner?
The Solution: Take the kids with you, or save your errand for another time, says Ava Parnass, a child and family psychotherapist in New York City. “The other parent expects you to be there and be in charge,” she says. “You want to make sure that no one’s feelings get too hurt if there’s a squabble.” There are also safety considerations— among them, a pal might not be as familiar with your home’s setup as your own child is. Risa Miller*, of Fanwood, NJ, is still feeling guilty because while she was in the backyard, her daughter’s 9-year-old pal decided to microwave some mac and cheese. “She reassured my daughter that she cooked all the time at her home. But our microwave is higher up than at her house, so it’s trickier to reach. The girl spilled hot pasta on her wrist and ended up with a burn that required three visits to the doctor.”
The Sitch: Your daughter’s playmate whips out her cell and starts texting other friends while your kid twiddles her thumbs.
The Solution: “Simply say ‘Jane, since you’re here on a playdate, you guys are going to play,’ ” recommends Tina Paone, Ph.D., a play therapist, mother of three, and founder of Counseling Center at Heritage, in Montgomeryville, PA. As for complaining to the friend’s mom later, “I wouldn’t, if the child quickly put the phone away,” says Lisa Gaché, founder of Beverly Hills Manners, in California. “But if it happens on her next visit, then at pickup, you could say to her mom, with a smile, ‘Maybe next time the girls can find an activity that doesn’t involve them being on the phone.’ ”
The Sitch: You feel pressured to serve only ultra-healthy foods on playdates, even though your kid prefers potato chips.
The Solution: Aim for a balance, like Joan Schwartz* of Scarsdale, NY, does when her 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, has a friend over. “I first put out something healthy, like cut-up fruit, and tell the girls they can have chips after they’ve finished that,” she says. “The other mom will know I tried to get something nutritious in them, and sometimes the kids are so full after the healthy snack that they don’t ask for anything else.”
The Sitch: You’ve accepted a sleepover invite for your daughter, not realizing that only her pal’s divorced dad will be home. You’re not OK with it. What to do?
The Solution: “Call and say ‘I’m sorry, and this is about me and not you, but I just don’t feel comfortable with a man supervising an overnighter,’ ” says Paone. Offer to host the girls at your place instead, if you can, or ask to turn the sleepover into a “late-over,” where your daughter stays only till bedtime. In the future, always ask who’ll be on duty before you say yes to a sleepover.