Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Manners, please: The Play Date

Ladies, the world cannot continue forever on this downward slide away from all decorum and manners. I'm all for frankness and comfort, but etiquette makes this crazy, crowded, bustling world go round. Let's lead the way in helping our children hold on to the few shreds of tact and politeness that remain.

How To Set Up a Play Date

One of the important purposes of children visiting each other's homes to play with each other is to learn etiquette and manners. Here's what I feel are the essential manners. All can be progressively loosened depending on your closeness with the family in question.

The Invitation

Teach your children that they may not invite themselves over to a friend's house. Yes, they may call their friend. To invite them to come over, not the reverse.

Exceptions can be made for close friends within easy walking distance in the neighborhood. This is because a.) presumably you've established an fair and effective trade-off system and taught all kids to behave appropriately in each other's homes, and b.) adults at either house can easily send everyone back over to the other house when needed.

Exceptions should not be made for kids under 5, who are always more of a babysitting job than a play date.

Asking for a Favor

Speaking of passive-aggressive babysitting requests, I've had moms call and say, "My daughter was wondering if Haley could play today." And I say sure, assuming that this is an invitation. Then the mom winds the conversation around to, "Hmmm, whose house should they go to?" and "My daughter really wants to go to your house," and eventually, "Great because I need to get my oil changed." This "invitation" was a grift.

Everyone understands the occasional need to offload a few kids during errands or whatever. And most people are happy to set up reciprocal favors with their kids' friends' moms. But don't pretend to be setting up a playdate when in fact you're asking for babysitting. If you are in a pinch and need some help, just say so:

"Hello, this is Angela. Hey, I'm calling to ask you a favor. Could Haley come over for about an hour after school? I need to take Roscoe for a haircut/Logan to the dentist/whatever."


The ideal length for a play date is two hours. This gives the kids enough time to have fun but doesn't let them get tired, cranky, or bored with each other. Cut it to 90 minutes for toddlers/preschoolers.

The mom who extends the invitation hosts. The mom who accepts the invitation drives.

Aim for an approximately fair rotation of inviting and visiting, but don't worry about keeping this exactly even.

Teach your children not to request treats when visiting a friend's house. If treats or snacks are offered, they may accept them with a "thank you."


Conflict will certainly arise as your child and their friend disagree on what to play, how to play, etc. This is a great opportunity for you to teach kindness, sharing, cooperation, and empathy. Except in the most egregious cases--say, biting, stealing, or sailor-grade cursing--do not tell your child that they were right and their friend was wrong. Do not call the other parent to complain.

Instead, commiserate with your child on the difficulty of the situation ("I can see you really wanted a chance to play with that truck.") and propose peaceful solutions ("I wonder if your friend would have let you have a turn in a few minutes."). Take the opportunity to tell your child that a good friend sometimes lets the other person have the upper hand, the biggest piece of cake, the preferred toy. Encourage your child to see the other child's point of view or just forgive and forget.

If the other child clearly made a wrong choice, you can say, "Sometimes other people don't have the same rules we do" or "I'm glad you chose not to act that way." But even those types of comments should be used sparingly. Remember, your child is, of course, telling you only their side of the story.

Coming and Going

Teach your child to answer the door and say, "come in" when a friend arrives. Teach them to walk to the door with a departing friend and say, "Bye. Thanks for coming."

When you drop off and pick up your child, a.) Thank the other Mom for hosting--even if this really was a play date and not a favor, b.) Thank the other child for being a good friend, and c.) Offer to return the favor any time. For bonus etiquette points, report to the other mom on something cute, fun, sweet, or helpful her child did.

What do you think? Any other important play date manners?


  1. Hear, hear!

    Although with the driving rule, I do usually take home if they are coming to my house and same with if they go to others, that way it gives the person hosting it the freedom to end it when needed.

    I teach my girls the "guest" rule. If they have a friend over, the friend is the "guest" and gets first dibs on games, treats, etc.

    If they are the "guest" at another home, they have to be on their best behavior and not to expect to go first.

  2. This is good for me to read since we are really just entering the world of playdates - it was really all about babysitting before now.

    Last week a friend insisted that Naomi borrow her Nintendo DS after a playdate. It was weird to me. I have never used a Nintendo DS before and neither had Naomi so it was just kind of a frustrating situation. Plus, then Naomi was stuck needing to return the DS at school which I'm sure is against the rules.

  3. Oh my gosh I LOVE this post! We are early in the stages of this phase, too, and I love having it all clear like that.

  4. Can you please publish this in book form? It would make a great christmas/birthday present!!!

    Other stabs at bonus points, do a craft for "mom" with the visiting child. Take a picture of the kids together. Have them help bake cookies and prepare a plate for the other family. Have the child ready to go if the mom has called saying she is on her way over.

    Now my pet-peeves/solutions:
    There are certain moms for whom I offer to bring their children home, otherwise they may never get picked up.

    I have had to train my kids not to ask me for things they know I will say "no" to, just because the visiting child put them up to it, such as snacks at inappropriate times... we should have extra fun with our visitors, but we don't have to change all the house rules to impress them.

  5. wow, brenda, many bonus points for those!

    i agree with not asking for special privileges--kids should be able to make their own fun with their friends.

    nanc, i try to say no to borrowing/giving things at visits. along the same lines as things you shouldn't have to do to impress your friends. i say something like, "you can play with that next time you're at their house."

  6. I loved this post. Although my play dates are long over I think my kids were pretty good at manners at friends homes. In fact, Harry had never done dishes until he started having dinner at his friend, Jacob's, house, where he had to help. He loved it and started him on the road to "helpfulness".

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  8. I haven't read all the comments, but I was recently at a house where many children were in the bedrooms playing during a party. I overheard one say she was going to close the door and the other asked her not to because her Mom said it was against the rules. The first tried to prevail, but the second was firm (to her credit)that it was a safety rule. I thought about it afterwards and was proud of both of them for working it out. I decided that the Mom was very smart to add this to her daughter's 'safety' rules to avoid anything happening that should not behind closed doors.