Oh boy! Getting several toddlers together for a play date can be…a learning experience. I considered investing in a really fancy whistle until I learned that there are several steps I can take to help make play dates easy, breezy for both me, my kids and their playmates.
- Cover the rules with your kids before the play date begins. Example: “Bobby, we are about to go to Jaden’s house to play. Let’s talk about the rules. There is no hitting, kicking or fighting while playing. And we share his toys and games. If you break any of these rules we will go straight home. Is this crystal clear?.”
- Once you are at the play date location, get all of the kids together and cover the rules with all of them before the play date begins. “Bobby, Jaden, Haley, Susie and Christopher…come here for a second. Today we are here to have a lot of fun. But there are also rules we need to follow while playing together. If anyone fights over a toy or game, then the toy will go to time-out. Okay? If anyone hits, kicks, bites or calls names, then that person will have to go home. Okay?” Make sure the parents hear, understand and support the rules so if their child is the one causing trouble they will take action.
- So, what if you are in the uncomfortable position where a child is not behaving and the parent of that child doesn’t do anything? I used to bite my tongue and not say anything and then hear weeks-on-end from my daughter about how mean and horrible “Christopher” was. Then one day my son was not playing nicely with his friend Ian and Ian’s mother very politely but sternly said, “Bodie, we don’t hit. Please stop.” And I had no problem whatsoever with Ian’s mom correcting my son. Parents don’t have eyes on the back of their head and many times we don’t see something that another parents does see. So don’t hesitate to correct another child (gently) and be open if other parents gently correct your child.
- Avoid junk food and sweets. I have seen a group of toddlers playing wonderfully together…until the chocolate chips cookies and juice are served. If you serve snacks at your play date, strive for carrots, fresh fruit and water over anything else. Otherwise, get ready for all heck to break loose!
- Ask older siblings to play safely with the little tikes. I have seen many accidental injuries from a 7-year old nailing a 3-year old with a ball as well as many toddlers hit by older kids on swing sets.
- Ask your playmates to take 10 minutes before they head home to help clean up. And if you are a guest at a friend’s home, offer to help clean up before you dash home.
- Every school and neighborhood has a handful of kids who are aggressive and physically or emotionally harm many children they play with. Don’t force your kids to play with these children – even if it’s your best friend. Identify the children who play well with your children and stick close to them. And don’t hesitate to leave a play date early if you sense your child is being bullied.