Welcome to the wonderful world of play-dates and playmates!
If it’s a first play-date, invite a parent in and have a cuppa or two. It will give their little one comfort, and they will settle better.
They are great for developing social skills, especially if you have an only child. Like my son they may switch between Jekyl and Hyde. There were scathing cries of ‘that’s mine’, tears and an attempt to smother a friend with a Buzz Lightyear pillow.
It’s good to talk beforehand about how other people will be playing with their toys, review expected behaviour and plan a reward for good sharing. I set brief rules of ‘play nicely and have kind hands’ soon after pick up and have an open door policy so I can hear when voices get above a certain pitch (SCREAMING).
Let your little one pick who they want to come play! Don’t be bossy troll mummy, their opinions are important. Start with one before attempting to juggle two or three children. Don’t rave before you can tap-dance.
Check usual bed and dinner times.
I had one little boy who ate dinner at 4 while we usually eat at six. You don’t want another person’s child starving and having to eat your wallpaper. (Ask sensible questions like do they have allergies and make sure you have parental mobile numbers).
If it’s a first play-date say you will try for an hour or two and see how it goes, things may descend into chaos and overtired crying. Other kids will have caffeine for blood and their parents are not worried if you come home at 9pm. Or at all. If our little is at a play-date, we just want a quiet drink and to watch homes under the hammer.
Do you have pets?
Overexcited jumping occurs and salivating (from animals as well as children). Some kids will not be familiar or confident with dogs or cats so it may be good to put them in the kitchen at first. Talk to the little visitors about how pets might act and how to be kind towards them.
Avoid Fred the fish floating upside down in the toilet (traumatic memory from my own childhood.)
Don’t stress or over plan.
I do find it reassuring to have a structured activity. It will help little’s communicate and learn to get along, especially if it’s a first play-date. My son’s favourite thing is having flour and hot wheels on the table. MESSY. Encourage outside play as much as possible in summer – we like hunting for mini-beasts!
After tea, Let them have an all-out assault on the bedroom as free play is important.
Children are bottomless pits. Pick simple food. Our favourites are cheese, bananas and brioche. I happily provide chocolate biscuits but avoid sugary sweets. I am not a strict parent in regards to food but do consider other parents’ wishes.Make sure you have ice cream in the fridge!
Manage the mess.
Don’t clean the house for anyone under the age of 20! Or over for that matter. Friends are visiting, not an estate agent.
One little boy sweetly told me he, ‘liked my dust and messy bits.’
I have a loose rule that only one toy box gets raided at a time. Otherwise everything will be on the floor, broken and someone’s will stand on Lego Wolverine.
Practical things. Ask kids if they want the toilet before they start playing. They will literally hold it to busting, or beyond. Make sure they know where the toilet is to avoid weeing in the under the stairs cupboard.
Do NOT serve broccoli for tea!
You spent 4 years bribing your child to eat it by describing it as an ‘awesome mini tree’. Other infants will stare at you wide eyed and incredulous. One little said, ‘I don’t eat this for daddy even when he gives me Smarties’. Legend. I stick with spaghetti, you can sneak in really small sliced up mushrooms, onions and carroty goodness.
Always have ketchup on hand, it’s like catnip for kids.
Put ornaments you like up high. Also make sure there are no sharp edges in your lounge, they will wrestle. Scrapes will happen, don’t panic. Throw cushions will be pummelled. I try and find a balance between backing off letting them have fun and casually calming them down before complete hysteria takes over, usually with a well-timed offer of a drink.
Your child may be all happy smiles and generous proclamations that his new best friend can borrow Burt the bear. So you agree. Then five minutes after the play-date ends the world ends without Burt. FFS. Try books first.
If after dinner kids want to watch TV don’t feel you will be judged by other parents. It can also be used as a back-up for if things go nuclear.
Wind down time is good, as is giving a 10 minute warning for when its home time.
Update parents on what their children did, how much they ate etc. Be honest if things turned into superhero warfare! After the playdate resolve to never have another again. Then arrange to have little Timmy over for a sleepover Saturday. Because lets face it, as parents we all like punishment.