It’s easy to get bogged down with the daily ins-and-outs of parenting, work, and life. There are dishwashers to unload, grocery shopping to do, and paychecks to earn.
Sometimes, though, it’s worthwhile to step back and simply enjoy quality time with our children. Easier said than done in the midst of another busy week, yes, but so worth it. We came up with five simple mother-son playdate ideas to inspire you to set aside some one-on-one time with the little dude in your life.
Julia is a freelance writer living in Minnesota with her husband and two young children. She loves reading, writing, photography, and all things equestrian. She blogs about Motherhood with humor and honesty at FranticMama.com.
So, you found the perfect play date mate for your child! This is an important step, helping to ensure a well-balanced, socially-adept childhood. No pressure or anything. You’ve never had a play date before; likely you’re as nervous as you were on your first real date! No worries, though, because here are some simple, practical tips for making your kid’s play dates simple and fun, the way they’re supposed to be!
First, Stop Stressing. Unless you picked a preppy, pretentious family with whom to have said play date, just dress yourself and your child normally, in play clothes. You don’t need to get the car detailed or get a bikini waxing—and your child doesn’t need his teeth whitened or highlights put in. Just you and your kid are enough for a good time.
Have an Exit Strategy. Not wishing the whole thing badly, but have something in reserve for if things fail miserably. Sometimes it’s a terrible match between your child and theirs, but you never know until it’s happening. So, keep the date short to start out with, and it doesn’t hurt to have an errand or event afterward that could suddenly become more urgent in the event of a kid-sized meltdown.
Easy Does It. The last think you should do with a shy child is to plunk him or her down in the middle of a busy play-date with a bunch of strange kids and expect miracles. That is a recipe for disaster, actually. Start slow and start small: one new kid, on your home turf, or on a common ground your child is familiar with.
Don’t Push. Think of it a bit like a date: don’t push it. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Sometimes it will take a bit of time to elapse before they truly start warming up to each other.
Choose Play Friends Wisely. If you have a shy child, don’t ask the rowdy, rambunctious neighbor kid over as your first choice. Try to find someone more like your child, who won’t frighten or overwhelm them.
Provide Common Ground. If the date is on your home turf, have some cool stuff to play with and do available, to avoid boredom. Do something fun, like go to a kid’s museum or animal exhibit, where the kids can get tactile. Get outside so they can roughhouse. All these things are conducive to bonding.
Put the Pets Away. No matter how wonderful Fluffy or Whiskers is, it’s best to put all pets out of harm’s way until the play date is over. Some kids are afraid of animals, some get crazy over them and can cause strange reactions in a normally tranquil pet, while others are allergic. Always ask about pet allergies before volunteering to host a play date, to avoid uncomfortable moments.
Recently one of my oldest friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, got in touch. “We’re coming to town! Can we see you?” I was thrilled – between us we have four boys under five and have wanted to get them together for ages. With our visit being last minute and later in the day than the kids are accustomed to, though, it was mayhem for all of us. Without specific activities set out for them, our little ones bounced off the walls accordingly. My friend and I couldn’t finish a sentence, let alone a conversation. For two families who rely heavily on structure for sanity and functionality, being without a plan took away from the experience. Worth it? Yes! But by the time we were done she and I were exhausted. Here’s our recipe for a play date that keeps kids and moms happy!
In a nutshell, there is a better way. Kids need to know there is a program in place. If you do things in the right order they will be too occupied by what you’ve got them doing to get bored and into trouble. Make a schedule for the play date and plan activities that accommodate their needs.
My suggestion is to start with some kind of exercise. I’m talking about real physical exertion here. The more fun, the better, so if you’re at home, set up a potato sack race or an obstacle course in the yard (no horseshoes, though – you don’t want some poor little person getting winged in the head with one of them). If you’re planning to be out and about there are places popping up everywhere offering both indoor and outdoor “adventure zones” for kids of all ages. If you don’t want to spend money on admission fees, use what you have at home or go to the park. Whether it’s to be a day inside or out, make sure the kids get an opportunity to burn off some steam! They will feel great and it will calm them for the rest of your time together. You should plan to participate in this part of the play date. It’s an opportunity to determine a feeling of safety and set forth ground rules for the remainder of your time together; your young guests should feel comfortable treating you as their go-to grown-up and it’s your responsibility to establish this.
After a workout, everyone will need to rest and refuel. When I host a play date, I always make sure I know if those joining us have any allergies, food aversions or requests. This is not to be confused with being a short order cook – the point here is to make everything easier, not to wait on everyone the whole time. The nice thing about apprising yourself of what people like or dislike is that no one is going to criticize you for ordering takeout or serving store-prepared foods if they know you’ve taken the time to consider them when doing so. Once I have my information, I plan an easy snack or meal and get as much of it done in advance as possible. Fun food for kids is imperative! Involve them in the preparation – make mini pizzas they load themselves or have them spread their own peanut butter and jelly. Put out finely cut fruit or veggies and let them make funny faces on their pancakes or toast. If you want to keep them calm, don’t overdo it with the sugar. Go with bananas rather than chocolate. Make smoothies (you can call them milkshakes!) instead of serving pop. No hard and fast rules, and by all means splurge on burgers and milkshakes from time to time. It’s all about balance.
Now, I am a huge advocate of turning off the damned TV when sitting down to dinner. Playdates can be an exception to this – and no, it doesn’t make you a lousy parent. Getting the kids exercised and fed is hard work and you will need some down time! Turn on Peep and the Big Wide World or put in a Disney movie – something appropriate for all ages present. You can do this during the feeding frenzy, as it may serve to distract them and cut down on the mess, or you can wait until they’re done. Hopefully you’ve remembered to brew the coffee or make yourself a snack too, because now is the time to enjoy the relative lull in activity.
The next important element is to have a few alternatives available for those kids who just can’t sit still. A train set, an accessible book selection, some coloured pencils and paper and a collapsible tunnel would be a great combination of options. The more straightforward the activity, and the less pieces involved, the more it will appeal to kids of different ages. Puzzles, climbing equipment and musical instruments are great things to have around, but as long as there are several opportunities for creative play most children will happily occupy themselves.
Don’t forget the magic! Add some whimsy by having the kids cut and arrange flowers as they set the table, or sprinkle some “fairy dust” (sure, glitter is hard to clean up, but life is short) while they play. You can always turn off the TV and throw on some Raffi instead. Have a dance party. Jump on the bed. Go puddle jumping if it’s rainy; a canoe or trail ride if it’s a beautiful day. These are the moments you will all remember later on.
Finally, the best trick of all: if you can swing it, hire a nanny for the afternoon and let her execute your master plan! If your young guests’ mom is a friend of yours, get out the martini shaker or the chocolate or whatever floats your boat. Then, get the hell out of dodge and take a break! Go put your feet up and have a good conversation. Feed your sanity a little.
Coming soon: further explorations on dealing with other people’s nannies, your obligation to other parents hosting your kids’ play dates, correcting or disciplining other people’s children, and whether you should assume your older child’s sibling is invited to that birthday party!
– Samantha Jeffers Agar loves to get her kids laughing and has even been known to sew the odd potato sack.
Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.