Piece of mind is priceless, and by having open communication with your child’s friends’ parents, you are opening the doors to a healthy and successful friendship on both ends.
If your child’s friend is being dropped off to your home for their playdate, I always recommend letting the parent know what the itinerary for the day is. This not only reassures the parent, but also the child. This can be very calming for younger children who may feel nervous about spending time in a potentially unfamiliar environment. I also recommend confirming “rules” such as dietary restrictions or allergens, activities such as watching movies/TV, and consuming sweets. Although it is the responsibility of the parent to let you know if there are any hard and fast rules for their child, there’s no harm in asking. This will also show that you place importance on communication and the other parent is more likely to reciprocate the gesture of including yourguidelines when your child visits their home for a playdate.
At the Door
It’s important that we remind our children that social manners begin from the moment we meet someone. If your child is feeling nervous about saying hello to a new adult (their friend’s parent) I suggest practicing with some go-to phrases that your child can memorize and whip out when feeling nervous. In our Dining + Social Etiquette class we call these our “elevator pitches.” A good one to start with could be a simple: “Hello” with a smile. Slowly, you can work your child up to a: “Hi, its nice to see you again.” Remember, this may be really difficult for your child at first, try not to show disappointment if they forget or become too nervous to use their greeting.
I love hosting playdates in our yard, this allows the kids to be creative, burn energy, and of course keep any mess outside! After realizing that kids quickly lose interest in toy-specific-games, I decided to gather some natural items that serve an imagination of purposes. During my time teaching at Vancouver’s Crofton House School, I was amazed at how the girls could transform their forest-playground into a variety of settings. They would barter with each other for “spotted leaves,” play doctor by mushing up berries as medicine, and build little houses for insects using twigs. I was inspired to create this little haven in my own backyard and added items such as sticks, small logs, leaves, acorns, buckets, water, old muffins tins and aluminum baking sheets. I find that my son and his friends last a lot longer playing since the props can adapt to a variety of new games and scenarios.
If playing indoors, creating a few simple “stations” can keep kids busy. Examples include: play-doh building, a card game, drawing, and playing a board game. You can use a timer for each station and have the children rotate a few times to avoid boredom!
For older kids who love the phrase, “mom… I’m bored,” I suggest having them fill a mason jar with potential activities a few days prior to the playdate. With some brainstorming they can have a pretty good selection of activities such as: playing board games, riding their bike, or building a fort. This jar will also come in handy when they are looking for you to entertain them during your already busy mid-week dinner prep!
Sharing is one of the first acts of common courtesy children participate in. It’s important that we discuss the messages behind this act such as being inclusive and considerate of other’s feelings. As part of our Dining + Social Etiquette class we constantly discuss the “why” behind every expectation taught. Children are much more likely to connect with a concept if they can understand how it can impact someone on an emotional level. In the home environment, there will inevitably be items your child has a sentimental attachment to and would prefer to not have anyone else play with. This is completely acceptable, and I recommend having a discussion about what these items are and where a safe place for them could be during the playdate.
If you or your child find that your guest is treating toys disrespectfully, have a discussion about how this could impact the toy. Reversing the conversation, in a gentle manner, by asking what their favourite toy is and how they would feel if someone broke it can shed a different perspective as well.
Of course, after an afternoon of burning energy outside, the kids will be hungry! Assuming you have already discussed any possible allergens or dietary restrictions with the other parent, I like to stick to quick mess-free snacks. Some great examples include: Turkey Rollups (tortilla, turkey slices, cheese, and cucumber rolled up), fruit, veggies and dip, or hummus and crackers. If your child’s guest is staying for dinner, you could turn dinner prep into an activity of its own. Making pizza is a great example and if the ingredients are prepared beforehand this can make the process much quicker and mess free, especially for younger children.
I always recommend that parents be mindful of the fact that not all children have been trained in proper dining etiquette. In our Dining + Social Etiquette class, we focus not only on manners and greetings, but also on appropriate conversations at the table. While your child may have applause-worthy manners, keep in mind that other children may still be building these skills. Having unrealistic expectations for your guests can make them feel uncomfortable. If reminders are needed, keep them light. An example includes creating a game around who can remember their “Please” and “Thank You’s,” which can be even more entertaining for kids if adults participate as well!