Hosting a baby play date is a great way to encourage life skills like sharing and collaboration in your tiny citizen. It’s also a great way to besiege your home with exponential chaos, wails of hurt feelings, and myriad social minefields you never considered. Step one is to prep and practice with your kid (seriously). Step 2 is to carry out your plan when things go haywire (because things will definitely go haywire). Here’s how to host a baby play date, something you never imagined could be so complicated.
One does not simply walk into a play date. You, your kid, and the parents of their best friend du jour must be prepared. A few key elements:
- Secure a perimeter: Find some toys and activities you think everyone will enjoy, and lock up the rest. Okay, not all of it, but definitely the stuff you don’t want played with, from tabletop decorations that will be misinterpreted by tiny hands and brains to Junior’s favorite toy that only Junior can touch. You can even let Junior choose said toy.
- Align with your allies: Get on the horn with the friend’s parents and get the full dossier. Allergies, activity preferences, weird and/or gross tics — all of it. Agree on a time limit so everyone knows just how long you’ll have to endure all of the above; the shorter the better, but an hour-ish is usually good before someone melts down or shuts down. Or both.
- Establish the rules of engagement: That conversation should also get everyone aligned on what’s acceptable vis a vis behavior, screen time, snacks, outdoor play, etc. Review expectations, rules, and consequences with your kid beforehand. Then establish a failsafe with the other parents for when the kids ignore all that and try to kill each other.
You’ve been ready for this your whole life, or at least the last week. Now lead ’em onto that field and play like a champion.
- Establish roles: Prep your kids with some role-playing, problem-solving, and apology practice beforehand. They’ll be ready for their play date and that awful corporate team-building day in 20 years. A bit of one-on-one time right before is also good so your kid has the rules fresh in mind and isn’t craving all your attention when their friend shows up.
- Read the defense: Be prepared to audible if you get to the line of scrimmage and see something you don’t like. Like a kid climbing the walls, who clearly belongs outside. The key is having a quick, simple reset ready for any given disaster scenario.
- Go solo as needed: There’s no “I” in “Team,” but there is in “Play Date,” even though there clearly isn’t. “Intermission,” then. Point is, if you sense a breakdown coming, introduce a non-sharing-dependant activity to give the kids their own space without ending playtime. Think coloring, puzzles, a snack, or the great equalizer: TV.
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