If I’m being totally honest, hosting play dates has never been my favorite pastime. Maybe it’s because I already entertain three kids on a daily basis or because I have a Type A personality and like my house organized and clean. That’s why when my kids want to hang out with friends, we usually go to the park or out for a treat. I don’t have to come up with a creative activity or whip up a fancy snack … and can keep my house somewhat in order!
But, as my kids get older (my daughter is starting middle school this year, yikes!), I really want to be that house where all the kids want to hang out because it’s a safe, fun, and positive environment. I’ve realized that now’s the time to start embracing play dates — or “having friends over,” if you’re my 11-year-old — before it’s too late. I am also a big believer that kids need social interaction outside of school hours to help them learn and master skills like sharing, taking turns, and resolving conflict.
To ease my way into hosting play dates, I did a little research and found five tips to help make them more enjoyable.
Tip 1: Set a Start and End Time
I always struggle with this because I don’t want to come across as rude, but it’s important for my sanity to know that at a certain time, the child(ren) will be picked up and go … home. Keep the play date to about two hours so the kids can have time to play, eat a snack, and avoid getting bored (read: wild).
Tip 2: Balance the Number of Kids
If I allowed each of my kids to have a friend over at the same time, that would be six kids! Some days I think, the more, the better! But, a smarter approach is to let each kid have a play date on a day when my husband can take the other two out to do a fun activity or send them to Grandma’s house so there is little distraction. Try to avoid having an odd number of kids over so no one ever feels left out.
Tip 3: Set Ground Rules
At our house, the kids play in their rooms with the door open. That helps us monitor conversations and intervene if we need to. We also save screen time for evenings after homework and on weekends. These rules still apply when friends come over. We’ve never really had an issue, but I notice that as the kids get older, more of their friends bring electronic devices. To avoid any awkwardness, ask the kids to leave their phones or tablets on the kitchen counter until it’s time to go home.
Tip 4: Serve Healthy Snacks
My kids are hungry all the time. And when friends come over, they tend to hover around the kitchen island waiting for food like little puppies. While we always have a good number of healthy snacks on hand, I try to mix it up with something fun and different when we have a play date. Offer healthy snacks like fruit or cut up veggies and dip, and don’t forget something crunchy and sweet to keep hunger (and whining) at bay.
Tip 5: Relax and Have Fun
This is hard for me. Sometimes I get too caught up with checking in on the kids, cleaning up, or coming up with ideas to keep them busy. Instead, I need to step back and let them have fun with their friends using their own imaginations. I can’t tell you how great it is to hear my kids laughing and bonding with their friends. I’m so thankful they have special little people in their lives who love and appreciate them. That alone makes it all worth it.
*Update: I hosted a play date last Friday night, six kids and me. And, I can honestly say that it was great. They played, they ate, they laughed (a lot), and they went home without destroying my house. And guess what? I survived. I call that a win!