Welcome to the wonderful world of playdates and playmates…
Connect. If it’s a first playdate, invite a parent in and have a cuppa or two. It will give their little one comfort, settle better and offer reassurance you’re not an eccentric pirate ninja.
Playdates are great for developing social skills, especially if you have an only child. Like my son they may switch between Jekyl and Hyde. There were scathing cries of ‘that’s mine’, tears and an attempt to smother a friend with a buzz lightyear pillow. It’s good to talk beforehand about how other people will be playing with their toys, review expected behaviour and plan a reward for good sharing. I set brief rules of ‘play nicely and have kind hands’ soon after pick up and have an open door policy so I can hear when voices get above a certain pitch.
Screaming = Uhoh.
Let your little one pick who they want to come play! Don’t be bossy troll mummy, their opinions are important.
Start with one before attempting to juggle two or three children. Don’t rave before you can tap-dance.
If it’s an after schooler check kids usual bed and dinner time. I had one little boy who ate dinner at 4 while we usually eat at six. You don’t want another person’s child starving and having to eat your wallpaper. (Ask sensible questions like do they have allergies and make sure you have parental mobile numbers). If it’s a first playdate say you will try for an hour or two and see how it goes, things may descend into chaos and overtired crying. Other kids will have caffeine for blood and their parents are not worried if you come home at 9pm..or at all. If our kid is at a playdate at someone else’s house, we just want a quiet drink and to watch homes under the hammer.
I don’t have pets but I can imagine dribbly, overexcited jumping occurs (from animals as well as children). Some kids will not be familiar or confident with dogs or cats so it may be prudent to put them in the kitchen at first. Then talk to the little visitors about how pets might act and how kindness towards animals is important to avoid Fred the fish floating upside down in the toilet (traumatic memory from my own childhood.) Sob.
Don’t stress or over plan but I do find it reassuring to have a structured activity, it will help kids communicate and learn to get along, especially if it’s a first playdate. My son’s current favourite thing is having flour and hot wheels on the table that his gang turn into Christmas on the Nürburgring. Encourage outside play as much as possible in summer – we like hunting for mini-beasts! After tea, I feel letting them have an all-out assault on the bedroom as free play is important. Make sure you have ice cream in the fridge. Go vanilla for safety. You can also blockade yourself in the kitchen and eat it.
Prepare snacks; children are bottomless pits of munchage. Go for simple food, my favourites are cheese, bananas and brioche. I happily provide chocolate biscuits but avoid sugary sweets. I am not a strict parent in regards to food but do consider other parents’ wishes and what you are letting yourself in for when the kids are bouncing off the walls on a skittles high.
Don’t clean the house for anyone under the age of 20. Or over for that matter. Friends are visiting, not an estate agent. One little boy did tell me he, ‘liked my dust.’ Manage the mess, I have a loose rule that only one toy box gets raided at a time otherwise everything will be on the floor, broken and someone’s foot is likely to be impaled by Lego Wolverine.
Practical things. Ask kids if they want the toilet before they start playing. They will literally hold it to busting, or beyond. Make sure they know where the toilet is to avoid weeing in the under the stairs cupboard.
Do not serve broccoli for tea. You spent 4 years bribing your child to eat it by describing it as an ‘awesome mini tree’. Other infants will stare at you wide eyed and incredulous. One little lad said, ‘I don’t eat this for my daddy even when he gives me smarties’. Hats off to that daddy. I stick with spaghetti bolognaise, you can sneak in really small sliced up mushrooms, onions and carroty goodness. Always have ketchup on hand, it’s like catnip for kids.
Put ornaments you like and wish to keep up high. Especially if you, like I, often have a house full of four year old boys. It’s like the stampede scene off the Lion king and your nice new candle is Mufasa. Also make sure there are no sharp edges in your lounge, they will wrestle. Scrapes will happen, don’t panic. Throw cushions will be pummelled. I try and find a balance between backing off letting them have fun and casually calming them down before complete hysteria takes over, usually with a well-timed offer of a drink.
Toy loans. Your child may be all happy smiles and generous proclamations that his new best friend can borrow Burt the bear. So you agree. Then five minutes after the playdate ends the world will not be able to turn without Burt and you then want to have a little swear. Try books for trade first.
If after dinner kids want to watch some TV don’t feel you will be judged by other parents. It can also be used as a back-up for if things go nuclear. Wind down time is good, as is giving the kids a 10 minute warning for when its home time.
Update parents on what their children did, how much they ate etc. Be honest if things turned into superhero warfare!
Keep a bottle of wine on standby…