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Let’s Get Together — A Guide to Parent-Free Play Dates

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Play Dates.

Chances are, you’ve either been looking forward to them or dreading them. At first glance they seem like an opportunity to get a little “you time” in, but how do you know when it’s ok to drop your child off to play and then leave? And what about returning the favor? How often do you have to host a play date, and what are you expected to do with the kids while their parents are away?

Suddenly it all sounds like more work than it’s worth.



Take a deep breath and don’t give way to despair just yet. The following guide makes navigating play date etiquette easy, sets you up for success and guarantees some ongoing alone time.

When IS it OK to Drop Off?

One of the biggest dilemmas you will face in the evolution of your tyke’s social life is figuring out when it is ok to drop them off at a friend’s house. The truth is, the answer is vague but important—you don’t want to ruin your parent-free play date partnerships before they’ve even begun.

By ages five to six, most children have attended preschool and are comfortable saying goodbye to their parents for a couple of hours. In general, this is a good age to test the waters and see if they’re ready to be on their own at a birthday party or get-together.

While age certainly plays a role in deciding whether it’s ok to leave or not, there are equally important questions to consider such as:
  • How comfortable are you and your child with the family?
  • Does your child experience separation anxiety?
  • How many children will be attending the play date, and is your child comfortable with all of the kids?
Your child is most likely ready to be dropped off for an hour or two of fun if the questions listed above didn’t raise any red flags or concerns and —most importantly of all—if it is ok with the hosting family.

Hosting Done Right

If you want to reap the rewards of leaving your kids with someone, you must also host now and again. While having additional children in your care sounds like a lot of work, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that you get a little down time while the kids entertain each other.

If you are hosting a play date in your home, setting the experience up for success is as easy as providing snacks and having a couple of activities ready just in case boredom hits or redirecting is required.

Before deciding on snacks, ask your young guest’s parents about food restrictions, then keep it simple with:
  • Apples, oranges and bananas
  • Celery and peanut butter
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Yogurt and granola
  • Cookies and milk

Planning activities for play dates doesn’t have to be complicated either. Consider the following:
  • Dance Party: Everybody loves to dance! Turn up some tunes and let the kids DJ and go crazy! You can even throw a dance competition.
  • Build a Fort: Break out the blankets, pillows and chairs and let the kids get creative.
  • Dress Up: Have a couple of costumes ready or bring out some of those outfits and accessories you no longer wear.
  • Art: crayons, paint, clay and glue: kids love to create!

Tips for being a good guest:
  • Always be on time for drop-off and pick up.
  • Bring a snack or beverage for the kids to share. If your child has dietary restrictions, pack a snack or meal bag to make things easier for the host.
  • Make sure your child helps clean up before leaving.
  • Before you leave, offer to host the next playdate at your house.
Tips for the Host Family:
  • If your child has toys they don’t want to share, have them put them away ahead of time to avoid conflicts.
  • Ok all videos, movies and games with parents ahead of time.
  • In an effort to make pickups easy, give the children a 10-minute and then 5-minute heads up.
Duration and Overnights

The length of time a play date should last depends largely on development and comfort level. It’s best to start younger children with drop offs that are shorter in duration (approximately two to four hours). As your child gets older and you develop strong, trusting relationships with your play date partners, you can increase the length of time you leave or host a child. Eventually, as your child begins to feel confident on their own (typically between the ages of seven and nine) they will be ready for the next social step — the sleepover! Imagine that.

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