What Makes Your Play Dates Successful?
Each Thursday I bring you kid-tested tips and parenting solutions for a specific parenting challenge “from the mouths of moms.” We’ve already shared lots of tips for dealing with picky eaters and getting kids to sleep better. Now here are direct quotes from a diverse group of mom bloggers (with kids of all ages and tons of ideas) on having no-fit, no-fuss, all-fun play dates. Yep – meet your new mommy friends!
Alright, Mamas, how do ensure fun and stress-free play dates?
- Meet at the Park – “During the summer we always try to plan our play-dates at a neutral location, like a nice shaded park. This way the children don’t have to worry about sharing and there is a lot of room to run off excess energy.” Zina from Let’s Lasso the Moon
- Enjoy Nature – “We love nature hikes. It’s a chance for all to enjoy fresh air, find bugs and other nature treasures, a time to run and laugh—and everything around us is everyone’s to enjoy. There are no toy tug of wars or sharing troubles—just the wonderful sharing of the next find…a mushroom, a salamander, or a frog.” Heather from wordplayhouse
- Bring Good Snacks – “In my mind, the true answer to ‘success’ with any child oriented activity is to make sure you bring good snacks!” Zina from Let’s Lasso the Moon
- Feed the Mamas, Too – “Cake & Coffee!!” Katherine from Creative Playhouse
- Get Messy – “I try to have an open ended activity available so that there isn’t so much risk of the sharing issue. Recently we had great success with a butterfly themed sensory bin. If its nice weather we use the sand pit and water play (even let the kids throw some guinea pig straw bedding around the garden last week).” Monko from Taming the Goblin
- Keep Rules Simple – “Our [simple] rules are ‘kind words, kind actions.’” Andie from Crayon Freckles
- Encourage Self Management – “I anticipate that the kids will struggle sharing and use it as a teaching moment. When my son tattles on his friend, I ask leading questions like ‘What could say to let your friend know that you don’t like playing that rough?’ or ‘If you want to play with the toy, how could you ask for it?’ It is amazing how many times that the other child will happily allow a turn with a toy if just asked politely. I like to encourage self management of small problems so that my child is not dependent on me to solve his difficulties. (Of course, this strategy would not work with extremely young or difficult children.)” Bethany from No Twiddle Twaddle
- Encourage Them to Use Their Words – “I talk to my children in advance. I avoid making it too wordy, but I remind them to “share, care and be fair”, and I remind them that if their friends don’t remember to take turns and play fair, it’s best to calmly use their words. They’ve learned that speaking calmly often gets better results than grabbing toys back or screaming. I also remind them that if their friends don’t respond to their calm requests that it’s probably a good idea to move on and find something else to do. They are three and four, and this system works well for us.” Allison from Train Up A Child
- Set Them Up For Success – “Setting expectations with kids is really important. If I know there is a favorite toy, I will often ask my daughter if she would like me to put the toy away before the other child arrives. I think it’s important to set our kids up to succeed. I try and discuss with my kids before the playdate, the importance of sharing with our friends.” Jennifer from Kitchen Counter Chronicle
- Consider Their Ages – “[Our] playdates tend to work better when the kids are generally the same age.” Amy from Z is for Zel
- Make a Book – “My daughter really struggled with this around age 3. Normal, of course, but it reached a level where it was very hard to have playdates for her. I wrote a little social story for her, very simple, photos of her and her toys and her friends and text that said things like, ‘When we play with our friends, we share our toys. Sharing our toys makes our friends feel happy. When my friend plays with a toy I want, I can ask for her to give me a turn when she is finished. While I’m waiting, I can choose another toy. When our friends go home, we have our toys all to ourselves again.’ There was a little more to it than that, but that is the basic idea. Before playdates, we would read the story. It helped her tremendously. And she loved having the book read, looking at the photos of herself and her friends.” Julie from Creekside Learning
- Count it Out – “We have a sharing policy – if two kids want the same toy we do a 20 count for each one to take turns. We started with it around 2 months ago and J (33months) is really good he will wait for the 20 counts and then counts himself 20 as well.” Cerys from Rainy Day Mum
- Put Away Hard to Share Toys – “I put away hard-to-share toys, and talk to my kids about what to expect in advance.” MaryAnne from Mama Smiles
- Set Up Toy Zones – “I like to set out little “zones” for certain activities. For example, If I put the [blocks] out, I first set out a large mat/blanket on the floor and put the [blocks] on that. Even without specifically telling the children they can only play with it in this area, you’d be surprised how they tend to keep things on the mat. This limits the mess and makes cleaning up easier.” Deborah from Learn with Play @ Home
- Try an Ice Breaker Activity – “For play dates with new friends, I like to start off with a somewhat structured activity to serve as an ice breaker (say, play dough or coloring/drawing, instead of diving straight into blocks).” MaryAnne from Mama Smiles
- Distract Little Ones – “We attend playgroup every week. The host just makes sure to have a ton of different toys out. If there is a dispute, talking to the kids and distraction with another toy usually works (the playgroup is mostly 2 year olds).” Amy from Z is for Zel
- Focus on Collaboration – “I like to put out some invitations to play that are based on the children’s abilities and interests. Things that the children can collaborate on (and not just play individually) are great like a large piece of paper and materials for a joint art work.” Deborah from Learn with Play @ Home (Check out more of Deborah’s great playdate ideas here.)
- Bring Your Own Toys to Share – “Sometimes I have my kids pick a few of their own toys to take along to share when we go to another child’s home. The other kids are more willing to share their toys if they’re distracted with the ones we bring.” Krissy (ME!) from B-Inspired Mama
- Know the Other Mamas – “Know [the other] parents. Not a great idea to have a messy open ended activity if the mummy is likely to have a melt down when the visiting child gets mucky.” Monko from Taming the Goblin
- Give Positive Reinforcement – “After the playdate is a great time to praise the great moments and think about the tough moments of the playdate so that we can avoid problems in the future.” Jennifer from Kitchen Counter Chronicles
How do you ensure success at your kids’ play dates? Share your tips in the comments below!