The perfect playdate is fun for the kids and easy on the supervising parent. With a little planning, you can keep the children happily occupied without a lot of stress.
For most kids, two hours is the maximum amount of time for an ideal playdate — long enough to have fun and get comfortable with each other, and short enough that they won't get bored, cranky or start bickering. You'll want to avoid conflicts with nap and eating schedules for the playdate. And while it may be tempting to include a number of children, keep the playdate small and manageable. The more children included, the more likely it is that there will be conflicts and overstimulation.
Some preschool-aged children get separation anxiety or are timid in an unfamiliar setting. Let the other moms know they are welcome to stay through the playdate if their child is uncomfortable without them. If the child is being dropped off, be sure that everyone is at ease with the arrangements. It sometimes helps a young child to bring along their blankie, a favorite toy or other security item. Exchange phone numbers with other parents in case of an emergency or if a child decides that they want to go home early.
If you have pets in your home, keep them well away from the play area. Small kids can be rough with pets, and some have a fear of dogs and cats. It's always safest and best — for both the kids and your animals — to have pets secured in another part of the house. As a courtesy, let the other parents know that you have pets. Their child may have an allergy to pet dander or a genuine fear of animals that you need to be aware of.
Ask about food allergies and preferences before deciding on snacks, and then keep it simple. Kids love finger foods, popcorn, crackers and dips. Don't serve carbonated, sugary drinks that will overstimulate them, and consider using plastic cups and paper plates to avoid breakage. Children aren't known for neatness when they eat, so expect that you'll have some cleanup to do after the playdate, and let the kids enjoy their snacks without a lot of scolding about crumbs and spills.
Plan one structured activity to get things started, and then allow the kids free play. Have plenty of toys or games available for them and let them choose for themselves.
Have the children help pick up most of the toys and stow them away a few minutes before the playdate ends. When everyone helps, you're teaching your own child to be a good guest when the playdate takes place at a friend's house.
Provide imaginative props for play — dress-up clothes, a tent, a variety of boxes in different sizes or Legos for building a masterpiece!
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