The etiquette of the playdate

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Playdates, play-dating, it all sounds very American, but it is now firmly part of the vernacular of the English primary school playground.

Basically it’s a chance for the little people to get together outside of school, form friendships and discover more about what it means to be a social animal. I think that it is actually a really important way of embedding your child happily into school life. Once children have had a chance to look at each others rooms, dinosaurs and parents, and providing there are no nasty shocks, it somehow brings them closer together and provides reassurance for fledgling friendships.

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While we’ve gone as far as adopting the name from the US in reality we can all still be a bit English, polite and vague about the actual practice of the beast. So for those new to the phenomenon of playdates here are a few guidelines that may be useful.
Don’t be shy about establishing a clear start and end time for the playdate and say if food is included. During term time the general gist is that the playdate happens after school, includes tea and ends at 6pm.
Until the age of five/six, and of course depending on your child, it is normal for mum/dad/carer to accompany their kid on a playdate. This can be a great way to get to know fellow parents in the playground.
After that most kids are happy to fly solo. Some mums use it as a chance to go to the gym or grab some shopping. Others use it as a chance to gossip, laugh and ruminate over whether 5pm is too early for a glass of wine. (NB- It’s not) General rule of thumb is that if you aren’t there and it’s your kid at the playdate you go and collect them.
There is a mostly tit-for-tat approach to these events but, as is generally the case in life, it’s good not to be too anally retentive about things. Sometimes life gets in the way, work, newborns, builders, hassle, and people find it harder to reciprocate. For the most part I am just guided by my children. They tell me who they want a play with and I try and sort it out.
When it comes to food keep it straightforward. Pesto pasta, pizza, a bit of greenery, fruit and a treat is fine. There’s no point slaving away on some organic extravaganza only for the excited little blighters to leave it or chuck it on the walls.
When it comes to dietary requests I think everyone has their thresholds. I am very happy to cater for a veggy but if someone needs their apple to fall from the tree of its own volition and bounce from a fluffy trampoline into a disinfected bowl in order to eat it then I say bring your own food or lets skip mealtimes.
Equally with allergies if a nut is going to give you a rash, I will be scared, but I will do my best. If a smartie is likely to trigger an anaphylactic shock I think I’d be happier to play on your own home turf.
When it comes to behaviour, I think kids adhere by your house rules, or you are entitled to tell them off. I have touched on this before, in a previous article ‘How to stop a primary school kids fight turning into a grown up fight’ but I think it is absolutely fine to politely tell them if their action is not acceptable. If they persist in bad behaviour telling them you are going to have to speak to their parent or carer can be an effective deterrant.
It can be a little more embarrassing if the other parent is actually at the playdate but ignoring the fact the fruit of their loins is trying to see if your newborn’s head is bouncy or flower press the family goldfish. You can absolutely tell them to stop. It is important to have consistency in the message your children receive from you. If their parents are unbothered that your great-great-grandmothers piano is being played with a bog brush then they either let you stop it or find someone more docile’s house to trash.
Another issue that has come up for discussion is the multiple kid playdate. Personally I think even numbers work best, although of course this depends on the characters involved, and more than four kids of the same age playing to me constitutes a party.

Siblings can also bump up the numbers and its up to you if you have the energy/room to include them. Sometimes I think that kids like to use a playdate to test out their independence and siblings can cramp their style. Equally  if there are siblings of a similar age then this can work brilliantly and simply add to the fun.

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I leave you with the memories of one particularly joyful playdate and the reason they can be such life-affirming events.

My eldest daughter, five at the time, had a lovely boy over for a play a couple of summers ago. While fully engaged in up-to-date- all-over-it parenting I was, also, having a quick perusal of Grazia magazine in the garden while this playdate was underway.
Suddenly a very concerned boy stuck his head out of the bedroom window and suggested I was needed fairly urgently and it had something to do with a baby being on the way.
“What’s up. Are you sure?’ came my assertive, caring response.
A few minutes later he called again. “It is really is urgent. She thinks we need towels.”
Sighing slightly at the overuse of this filmatic response to childbirth I told him to help himself to them in the bathroom.
Inevitably curious, ten minutes later I made my way upstairs.
There I saw my five-year-old, lying in bed, changed into her nightie, with a look of dewy-eyed joy in her eyes ,clutching a damp towel and doll. Stood to her side was a bewildered five-year old boy bedecked in goggles and an apron. It was a beautiful moment, and frankly far more effecting than any Nativity play.
Later as I opened the door to his mum, a lady I didn’t at that point know very well, I was overjoyed to be able to tell her she’d become a grandmother. She stayed, we chatted and after a couple of glasses of wine we agreed that if this scenario plays out in real life, in some twenty years time, it will be no bad thing at all.

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