Parenting is one of those things that you can’t possibly understand until you’re in it. You must survive spit up, dirty diapers, tantrums and the 15 minutes it can take to simply put on shoes and socks to fully understand what makes kids tick. Much like Jane Goodall who spent years with chimpanzees to figure them out, parents learn a little more about their kids every day by living in the same house and interacting on a daily basis.
My own parenting research has revealed that my son is happier when he’s occupied. He is much more likely to stay out of trouble this way. Therefore, I am more likely to stay sane when my son is occupied, happy and out of trouble.
One of the greatest ways to occupy children is with a little change of scenery and a little social interaction that can be offered through play dates. Play dates don’t have to be elaborate. You can plan them at your home, a park or a museum. Sometimes you can host and other times you can just show up. Whatever the play date situation is for you and your kiddos this week, keep some very important dos and don’ts in mind to make sure that you’re included in next week’s invite, so we can keep that parental sanity flowing!
- Offer to plan or host play dates. You don’t need that responsibility every week, but certainly make sure you’re taking the lead as often as other parents in the group.
- Account for hungry kids and adults. If you’re hosting in your home, remember that active kids have healthy appetites. Have a few healthy snacks on hand, like bite-sized fruit pieces, cheese, crackers or dry cereal. I don’t think any adult has ever complained about snacks either, so consider having something simple for the grown-ups as well. If your play date is around a mealtime, either offer lunch, suggest parents bring their child’s lunch or plan a potluck. And, as a good rule of thumb, always keep food allergies in mind any time you offer snacks to kids.
- Pack accordingly. Just as you would for an afternoon out of the house, pack anything your child may need, like diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, snacks and water. Don’t just assume these things will be available.
- Discipline your child when necessary. Parenting is a full time job; no matter where you are, you need to step in if your child isn’t sharing toys, is throwing tantrums, pushing, hitting or pinching. Don’t be shy about enforcing a timeout or leaving if your child is acting up. The other parents (and kids) will appreciate your well-behaved child.
- Respect the host’s rules and home. Nothing will make a parent regret hosting a play date faster than watching the house fall apart. Even if the host makes requests that your child isn’t used to, like removing shoes when in the house, you and your child should respect the rules, the house and everything in it!
- Keep it interesting. Try different activities and locations with each play date. Get outside when the weather permits, try organized crafts, themed play dates or just good old playing with toys.
- Be inclusive. Especially in the military community, there are always new parents and kids to invite. Be open to inviting new faces and be accepting when regular attendees ask if they can invite a new parent and child to the group.
- Mistake a play date for a babysitting offer. Play dates usually imply that parents are present. And if you are present, it should be obvious. Don’t expect to walk through the door and get a break from your kid for the next hour. While it’s fine to stand back and let your child socialize, keep an eye out for poor behavior or potentially dangerous activities; it is no one’s job but yours to parent your child.
- Spend the entire play date on your phone. Again, just be present and focus on your child and the other parents who are with you. Unless you have an emergency, texting constantly while others are trying to involve you in a conversation is just plain rude.
- Bring your sick kid. It’s important to teach your kids how to share, but they can keep their colds and infections to themselves.
- Mistake a spouse meeting or other social event for a play date. Some locations and events are simply not kid-friendly. Never assume that something is kid-friendly unless it is clearly stated in the invite or you speak with the host.
- Be offended if parents decline your invite. People are busy; don’t take it personally. Respect that some moms and dads have to work. Appointments, commitments and sick kids are normal parts of parenting. When scheduling play dates, keep timing in mind. Some parents—myself included—abide by a schedule; naptime for my son is sacred quiet time for me and is NOT to be tampered with!
You and your kids could probably both use a little change of scenery. So, plan something fun or accept a play date invite and let the fun begin!