The time has come. My oldest son is growing quickly and has many friends. Friends who are loud, messy, talkative, and destructive boys. To these first graders, 30 minutes at recess isn’t enough time to run around playing “ninja” or “spy.” And I agree. How can you complete a world-saving mission in such a short amount of time? The boys eventually want to take it to the next level; play dates and, dare I say it, sleepovers!
This is where I have to get real. I have a confession. I’m almost afraid to admit this, but, here it goes: I don’t like to watch other people’s kids. There, I said it! I’m a verbal processor, so let’s explore this…
Our home is a safe haven from all the hustle and bustle of the day. I work a pretty emotionally taxing day, get stuck in traffic for about 90 minutes coming home, only to cook, clean, etc. when I finally arrive. I know I’m not the only one here! We adhere to a pretty strict schedule so the kids are in bed on time and Mommy can find maybe an hour before bed to relax. Not to mention, our family is currently trying to find a rhythm since moving into our new home. These are just a few of the many reasons it would throw me off to have kids over on the weekend when we are finally able to spend more than a couple of hours of family time together.
But wait! Isn’t parenting about sacrifice? Don’t we want our kids to socialize and thrive? I know I do! So, I decided to reframe this situation and think of a few things that may be helpful in preparing for a play date.
Talk to Your Partner and Determine Expectations
This will likely be at the top of any list I bring up. It’s so crucial to make sure you’re on the same page with your significant other! In this case, talk about what you want before agreeing to invite someone’s child over. For instance, is there a specific time of the month that is better? Do you prefer weekends? I know a family who uses a shared family calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts. How will you handle last minute requests from the other family? Will you even consider allowing a last minute request?
It’s also important to lay out the ground rules and expectations for a visit from another child. Perhaps you outline how long the play date will last. Who will be home? Will the responsibilities to watch the kids be split? Will one of you play a more active role? More importantly, perhaps, have you met the other family? Often times we want to trust that other people are as trustworthy and thorough as we are. But it’s always nice to touch base with the visiting child’s parents. Which brings me to my next point.
Talk to the Other Child’s Parent(s) to Understand Immediate Needs
When our son asked if a friend from school could come over, I explained that the mommies and daddies have to talk about it first. He heard me, but I’m not sure he understood … I know I didn’t get it when my parents told me that! As an adult, I realize the importance of having conversations with other parents when your kids will be spending time together.
Consider having a meeting for coffee or something first to introduce yourself. A complete background check may not be necessary, but please, go at the pace you are comfortable with when getting to know another family. Let’s face it, if the kids hit it off, you’ve opened the door to new friendships as well!
Ask questions that help you understand how to make sure you are taking care of immediate needs. Who is the emergency contact? What are the food allergies? Are there medical concerns? Take this chance to share how to best care for your child. In essence, making sure the kiddos are safe is key here. And these initial items will likely adjust as you get to know the child and the family well.
Keep your Kid(s) in the Loop
My son and I have a very open communication policy. There are several reasons for that. One of the conversations to have with your partner should include what the rules are and expectations of your child. This is also something to communicate with the kids so there are no questions about what the day will look like.
For instance, reiterating to your child the importance of respect and sharing are two great ways to start! Saying something like, “I know you’re excited that Timmy is coming over! Sometimes we get so excited we forget that running in the house may cause us to hurt ourselves. Let’s show Timmy how we can play safe.” This way, you’re acknowledging how utterly stoked your son is as he anticipates the visit and reminding him of the rules.
My son, among other kids, I’m sure, appreciates knowing the plan. So, if you are having something other than free time in the yard, letting your child what the day will look like creates a nice balance between what they’re allowed to do versus what they’re not allowed to do. It’s OK to talk about how excited they are!
What’s the Game Plan? Or is There One at All?
What are you planning on doing? Maybe it is just free time outside. That’s OK! There is such a huge world to explore in the yard; one that has more than our imagination can reach. Allowing the kids to use their language of play is a great way to expand their minds and maybe get exercise out of it. Plus, it’s free.
I know there are some parents who enjoy planning certain things for just about every block of the day. Part of this is our issue as adults. Maybe we think the kids couldn’t possibly be entertained without going here or there. I think we could stand to take the pressure off ourselves.
All in all, bring this back to the approved activities with the other child’s parents. Did you have a conversation about what was OK? Remember, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple. It may just be a matter of watching the magic happen in the yard and providing the snacks!
I am simply talking about preparedness here. Remember when I talked about food allergies? That’s important. Have you planned whether one box of pizza will do it or will you need more? Does the child’s family insist on a gluten-free diet? To the latter point, if there are special instructions such as this, recall the parent meeting. Maybe you discussed the fact that Timmy will be bringing his own lunch. Where can the kids eat in the house? Are you allowing them to take drinks to the living room to watch TV? These questions, among other general entertaining prep, need answers before anyone comes over.
Plan for When Your Child Goes to a Friend’s House
So, what do you do when your child is invited to another person’s home? The same concepts apply, with initial conversations between all adults involved being the precursor. You may consider tips such as having a code word for your son or daughter to use when he or she is not having a good time or feels uneasy. The idea is to train your child to use the word when you call to check on them at some point during the play date or sleepover. If the word is used, then it’s time to go pick up your kid! This is one of many amazing tips to help you feel comfortable when sending your child to a friend’s home. For more of these types of tips, consider having a Kitchen Conversation (Contact Alek Reeves at [email protected] for information on how to set one up).
Now that I had the opportunity to brainstorm here, I think I’m feeling better. It looks like I won’t be able to avoid having our son’s pals over for a good time. As long as I feel prepared to make sure everyone is safe and I’m open to making new friendships, we should be good to go!