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How to Plan a Great Playdate

Sure, we all want our children to have friends and have fun and to be happy. But playdates can be a hassle, and they don’t always turn out so well. Here’s how to avoid some common pitfalls and improve your odds that everybody will have a fine time—and you won’t end up with a migraine.

Don’t force friendships. If you are dealing with children who are old enough to be dropped off, let you son or daughter choose whom to have over, or at least consult with them before reaching out. If your child isn’t sure, ask her teacher who she’s been clicking with in the classroom.

Prepare ahead of time.
Have a few different activities and crafts on hand, in case the kids don’t get right to it on their own or their free play takes a chaotic turn and you need to shift gears. Involve your child in the selections so s/he is on board. Avoid super messy stuff like glitter glue in favor of, say, foam stickers. Kiwi Crate has a bunch of great DIY ideas, like marshmallow sculptures and superhero masks. Also: allow your child to put away a couple extra-special items that you know might cause problems if the visiting kid shows an interest. Playdates are about sharing, of course, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be up for grabs.

Have snacks available. If the playdate takes a wrong turn, you can distract and redirect by offering a treat. (“Who wants a popsicle?!”) Check with the other parents about allergies and food preferences ahead of time and always have back ups.

Be sure siblings are otherwise occupied.
Sometimes a big brother or little sister can add to the fun by mixing things up—especially for the guest, particularly if s/he doesn’t have a sibling at home. But if there’s strife, maybe it’s best to schedule one kid’s playdate for when the other has soccer practice.

Go with the flow. Of course you’ll want to make some basic rules clear from the get-go (like no jumping off the furniture) but don’t micromanage. Set out the materials for that activity or craft you’ve prearranged and help get the kids started if they don’t jump in right away and seem at a loss for what to do with each other at first. Once they are playing nicely, step aside. Don’t hover, but stay close enough to observe so you can intervene if necessary. Just don’t jump in to solve every little problem that pops up. (This is a delicate balancing act, and how much and at what point you insert yourself with depend on the age of the children.) Make sure to clear activities such as bike riding or swimming with the other parents beforehand.

Avoid screens. Letting the kids watch TV defeats the purpose of the playdate, which is to have some real human interaction and work on their social skills. A two-player video-game, however, might be a good activity if it’s age-appropriate and requires the friends to work together.

Have an end point. Establish drop off and pick up times beforehand, and limit the duration to two hours max—you don’t want to push it. Have the kid ready at the appointed pick up time too, so you’re not running around trying to find socks and shoes with the mom or dad waiting in the doorway. Give the kids a 10 minute warning and then help the friends make a clean break. (You could all walk out to the car together, say.) The other parent will appreciate an efficient in-and-out too.

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