13 Sep 2023

Polite Play Dates

School term is underway and parents, especially if they have young children, will need to take responsibility for organising and overseeing their kids’ budding social lives. This means, at the very least, inviting friends (or potential friends) round to after-school play dates. This is a comparatively unchallenging introduction to the whole notion of childhood socialising; in time it will evolve into sleepovers, shared outings and even shared holidays.

Play dates can seem daunting, especially if you’re not used to organising them, but they are vital. Young children are, not surprisingly, clueless when it comes to organising a social life and they need a helping hand from responsible adults. The main priority is to lay on a decent tea, organise a pick-up time with the corresponding parents (the normal pattern is for you to pick the kids up from school, and for the other parent to pick up their child from your house, but of course this is not a hard and fast rule), and ensure that plenty of entertainment is available. Try your best to leave the children alone as much as possible and create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

If your child is invited on a play date be meticulous about punctuality (turn up on time to pick them up), and accept that you must reciprocate, preferably in short order. It’s never a bad idea to give your child a quick manners run-down before they go on a play date: remember to say please and thank you; do what xxxxx’s mum tells you; don’t help yourself to food from the fridge; take off your shoes and/or don’t put your feet on the furniture etc.

Follow these simple recommendations to ensure that play dates go with a swing:

•Share the pick-up

The general assumption is that one parent shouldn’t have to do the pick-up and drop off. So, unless they’re insistent, arrange that you’ll pick up your child – it’s good to show that you’re willing to share the burden of shuttling kids back and forth.

•Think about entertainment

Inevitably the tv will play some part in the afternoon’s activities, but you really don’t want the children to come in from school, slump in front of the television and simply stay there. A play date involves ‘play’, so by all means let them decompress in front of the television for 30 minutes, but then encourage them to do something else. That might mean sorting out some options beforehand: Lego, board games, dressing up box, garden games etc. Have plenty of suggestions to hand.

•Leave them alone

Within reason, leave them to their own devices. Your child will be keen to show a new friend their bedroom, toys etc and they’re much more likely to bond without an adult onlooker. Just be alert to ominous silences…

•Relax your rules

You don’t want to spend the entire afternoon telling off someone else’s child so, within reason, try and be relaxed and flexible about your own rules. You might find their table manners lacking but haranguing them for putting their elbows on the table or holding the fork incorrectly is hardly going to make you, or your child, popular. Don’t let your standards slip completely – it will confuse your own child. If, for example, you find guests helping themselves to food from your fridge or changing your tv channels, and that behaviour is forbidden in your own home, then be firm and insist that they ask you first. Inevitably, some behaviour will just be unacceptably transgressive (eg fighting); in this case, try and intervene in a firm, non-judgmental way and, if possible, use humour to deflect any criticism. You don’t want to get the reputation of being a frightening parent.

•Check out allergies and intolerances

Parents will inevitably keep you fully informed about their children’s dietary needs but double-check beforehand when you’re making the arrangements for the play date – it shows you’re taking it seriously and acting responsibly.

•Check out food fads

At this point you could also check out if the child has any violent likes and dislikes and do your best to accommodate them, within reason. If you are informed that the child has a ridiculously restricted diet, or one that you regard as unhealthy, bite your tongue. This is not the place for missionary zeal and the best you can do is provide the preferred foods (or a version of them), even if you don’t really approve of them.

•Don’t overthink the meal

Accept that, whatever you provide, you may be confronted by a child who stubbornly refuses to eat. Or your child’s friend might obstinately eschew all greens and fruit and healthy options. In these circumstances, it is best to put your own dietary preoccupations aside; don’t insist they “eat up their greens”, as you would with your own child. Just accept their choices and remind yourself you’ve done your best. Provide bread and butter and hope that, if the worst comes to the worst, the child will at least be able to eat that. Remember, no child is going to starve if he/she refuses the food you’re offering. Don’t overcompensate by overloading the children with fizzy drinks, crisps, biscuits and cakes – it will only make them hyper.

Children's Teatime Favourites

Fishfingers or fishcakes
Spaghetti Bolognese
Macaroni cheese
Shepherd’s pie
Roast chicken
Homemade burger
Corn on the cob
Baked potatoes


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