Whenever one of my kids asks to invite one of their friends round, I get a bit nervous. You could call it playdate anxiety. My knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘no’. But I’m working on it.
I think I was traumatised in early parenthood when the first playdate I arranged turned to disaster.
The memory of the crumpled look on my four-year-old son’s face as his ‘friend’ (let’s call him Jacques) destroyed him with words, still brings me out in sweats.
‘It’s rubbish at your house!’
…and it got worse. Jacques had brought his twin sister. She looked at her brother, and then turned to my son to reinforce the insult:
‘It’s rubbish at your house!’
Once they’d left, I swore:
‘Never again will those brats cross this threshold.’
A wiser king of promise could have been something more like:
‘Never again will I be so ill-prepared!’
And I never was. I learnt my lesson the hardest way, with my son paying the price. My playdate learning curve had to be steep for my children’s sake.
For some reason (now totally beyond me!), I had thought that if you invited somebody else’s kids round to play with your own, the difficult part was done. You could just leave them to it. They had toys. They had each other. They would surely just… play.
Ha! How wrong could I have been?
Maybe that does work in some households. It sure didn’t in mind.
Here’s what happened
As soon as their mum had dropped off her petits choux (seriously, ‘little cabbage’ is an affectionate term in French), they asked to play on screens. I said ‘no’. I left them to their own devices (er, not the electrical kind). My little boy didn’t know what to suggest. They kept asking if they could play on screens. I kept saying ‘no’. They didn’t know what to do with themselves, traipsed around the house feeling more and more frustrated and bored which eventually led to ‘the insult’.
With hindsight I can see what went wrong. In fact (and this is one of the reasons I love writing), now I’ve just written the above, it’s so clear.
They were little people who needed some basic guidance.
Here’s what could have happened, with just a little prep…
…and this is presuming the weather was awful and we had to stay in.
Talk to your own child
Even before they arrived, I had a little chat with my child, and came up with a few things they were going to do.
Crafty ideas to avoid playdate anxiety
I set out some paints and paper on the table, and made it look kid-friendly and inviting. There are so many other craft ideas for kids out there. But whether it’s plant pots to decorate with stickers and pens, pipe cleaner animal projects to assemble, or playdough villages to construct, anything hands on can move them into a great head space.
Just like big people, kids love creating.
Plus, it takes up some of the time!
Then it was game time. If you’ve a couple of games (not too many – too much choice leads to overwhelm, for me and the kids!) handy, there’s nothing many kids like better than to have an adult interact and play with them. If you can get involved in an age-appropriate game with them, it can be a lot of fun for everybody.
Snacks are your playdate friends
The next bit is crucial. Snack time! Or, as they call it in Belgium, ‘Le quatre heures.’ Even if it’s just water (the healthiest choice, obviously), cardboard straws and ice cubes make it special. Plus, some chopped up fruit, and a bickie. Home made gets you extra brownie points (get it?).
(Post-ed., 21 May 2019): I tried frozen blueberries instead of ice cubes last week. The friend shreaked, prodded it, and wondered why I’d put a beetle in her drink.)
Presentation is everything! If food looks fun, it’s more likely they’ll love it!
Creative use of food colouring and biscuit cutters can make the difference between delight and disgust. And fruit faces work every time. Kids who aren’t starving hungry are so much more fun 🙂
Another idea is baking with the kids when they arrive. Most children love a bit of cake decorating. They are so proud once they’ve made something. They can even take some home afterwards for their lucky, lucky parents.
So, once they’ve played a game, completed a wee craft project and had a snack, the date’s more than likely nearly over. If it’s gone to plan, they’ve not even noticed there’s been no screens in sight.
Anxiety? What anxiety?
The end result: happy kids, happy parents. (Which comes first?)
So now, when I feel those nerves creeping in, I have to remember: I have kids. I can’t avoid playdates.
But what is it I worry about these days?
The answer is… judgment. The kids might pronounce judgement on me, my household, and ultimately, my own kids. The thought of a playdate magnifies all of my own insecurities. And I’m sure I’ve been guilty of projecting these insecurities on to my own children, which of course, they feel.
For me, this can partly be explained as we are not ‘from round here’ so we had to start from scratch with building a circle of friends. I didn’t know any mums, and I was out working for most of my children’s younger years, which left me zilch time to work on building a community.
…for a while I avoided the inevitable staying-at-home playdate, and just took the kids out somewhere. If they’re swimming, at a leisure park, or the cinema, they’re occupied. But although outings certainly have an important place, they can become expensive.
Time to big up to the anxiety and act like a parent
At some point, I had to master my avoidance techniques for the ‘what are they going to do?’ question. Not to mention face up to those how-much-screen-time battles. Plus, building those oh-so-precious just-hanging-out skills is such an important lesson for kids too.
Instead of giving in to the temptation to panic, with a run-up that could become a house-cleaning, cake baking frenzy (which does have its benefits – like a clean house and… cake, but that’s beside the point), I now consciously try to brave more (drumroll) stay-at-home playdates.
If I feel those nerves creeping in, a few simple rules seem to help a transition from pants to party-time!
How to avoid Pants Playdates
- Come up with a short list of things they ‘could’ do – get your children involved in this.
- Have any mutually-agreed rules needed in place beforehand (I’m talking about screen time here – when and how much!).
- Take babysteps. Don’t be bullied (by your kid) to have their friends over for, like, a whole weekend (unless you want to). Start small and build up your confidence.
- Get involved with the activities for some of the time – get to know your children’s friends a little yourself. They won’t bite – well, generally speaking.
- Be around for the rest of the time, but in the background. This is a great opportunity to develop those parental super-senses!
- One at a time. Keep the dynamic simple. Two’s company, three can most definitely be a crowd.
- Have your snacks prepared and at the ready – unless you’re baking with your little guests.
- Don’t be too rigid. Remember, it’s your kid’s playdate! It’s all about having fun!
Since the first playdate disaster, there have been good times, when, come home-time, the children have danced out of the door happy and carefree… Actually, that would be a bad sign. Rephrase: …the children have hidden from their parents, kicked and screamed that they didn’t want to leave here, ever, and when they eventually do, it’s because we’ve promised they can come back, as they turn to my boy and say:
It’s great at your house!
As with so many things in life, you just start to get to grips with a skill and it’s time for a new chapter.
That cliché is so true.
They grow up so fast!
When I send the ‘little cabbages’ home with home-crafted dream catchers and big grins on their faces, I know that this day was worth it. On this day, memories were made. Memories of playtime and friendship, fun and life lessons.
Because those children, they teach me so much.
I’d love to hear your stories… Am I the only one who gets playdate anxiety? Do you have any tips for playdate prep?