Playdates are a vital part of development for kids of all ages. Toddlers without other socialization opportunities like day care build valuable social skills and learn to share. Young kids develop friendships and gain their first taste of independence. Cooperative play also improves foundational skills like imagination, communication and problem-solving. However, 48% of parents turn down opportunities for playdates despite the benefits because they feel uncomfortable leaving their child in another parent’s care.
While a certain amount of hesitation can keep your child safe, preventing all playdates isn’t the answer. A frank conversation and some research can ensure your kids stay safe at someone else’s home.
1. Establish Clear Boundaries
It’s safe to say that every home’s rules will differ slightly. Since your child will be spending some time with another family, you should check to see how their values and structure align with yours.
You’ll need to be somewhat flexible with rules that don’t matter as much, like dessert before a meal. However, you should ensure you agree on critical safety matters. If you aren’t staying for the playdate, you can also make sure your kids know what they are and aren’t allowed to do.
2. Know Who Will Be at the Playdate
Before dropping your child off, find out who lives in the home and anyone they may come in contact with during their short stay. How many kids do they have? Do extended family members live in the house? Will neighbors or friends drop by? You have a right to know anyone your child will interact with while away from your care. You must feel comfortable with whoever they meet and spend time with.
3. Give Your Child a Way to Contact You
Young kids probably won’t have cellphones, so you can give them a family phone or arrange another way to contact you. You and your child will feel safer knowing they can call you if they get scared or uncomfortable. Leave your number and an emergency contact with the other parents so they can also reach you.
4. Get Familiar With Their Home Hazards
One of the most important questions you can ask is about any potential safety hazards. Do they have a pool or other open water? Do they have a playground or trampoline? Do they own guns? These essential questions can help you protect your child’s life.
Ensure guns are kept locked away and water is enclosed. Kids should also be supervised by an adult if they spend time on a trampoline or in the pool. If the children might have access to the family’s garage, ask if items like power tools, gas tanks and fireworks are locked away. You never know what might be left out next to toys and bikes. Politely decline the playdate opportunity if you’re uncomfortable with the parents’ responses.
5. Communicate About Allergies
If your child has allergies, you already know the struggle of getting restaurants to accommodate them. Families who don’t have kids with allergies may not understand the severity of having a reaction. Ensure they won’t feed your child any off-limits foods and inform them about other allergies like bee stings. You must also give them life-saving medication, like an inhaler or epi-pen. Perhaps put a note on the bag with instructions. An easy tip to remember with an epi-pen is, “Blue to the sky orange to the thigh.”
6. Send Sunscreen
Not all families require their kids to put on sunscreen before outside playtime. Make it clear that your child needs to wear it if they’re going to be outdoors for any amount of time. Bring your own bottle of SPF 30 or greater in case they don’t have any on hand. Ask them to help your kid apply it every two to three hours. You can also drop your child off with a hat to further protect them from uncomfortable sunburn and the risk of skin cancer.
7. Know the Playdate Plans
Most playdates are simple, with the kids playing in the backyard or inside with toys. However, you need to be aware if the family plans to do anything outside the ordinary. Will they play in a pool at the house or go out for ice cream? Are any visitors dropping by who will interact with the kids? You aren’t being nosey. You have every right to know what your child will be up to when they’re outside of your care.
8. Meet the Parents
At the bare minimum, you should meet parents or caretakers before leaving your child at their house. See if you can chat with them at school or day care drop-off and pickup. You could invite them to the park for a combined public play date. Having these interactions beforehand lets you get a feel for the type of person and parent they are before allowing your child to spend time alone with them. If you get along with the parent, you could even ask if they would like company. A playdate doesn’t mean that you have to drop of your child and leave.
9. Further Research
Unfortunately, not all people are who they come across as. You may feel perfectly fine after an initial meeting. However, you should do further research before letting your child play at their house. Glancing through their social media will give you another window into their world. If you still feel unsure, you can always ask around with other parents about their interactions.
Finally, at the beginning of every school year check the registered sex offenders list to ensure the safety of your kids. It’s not a fun thought, but you can never be too safe.
Be Willing to Be Awkward
Discussing these issues with other parents may feel awkward, but getting the necessary answers will ensure your child’s safety. Isn’t one uncomfortable conversation worth letting your kids enjoy the benefits?
Asking questions may be easier than you think. According to a national poll, 73% of parents say they wouldn’t mind queries about safety from other parents, yet only 23% had ever been asked. Make the first move. Talk to other parents before letting your kids experience the fun of a playdate.
About The Author
Cora Gold is a mother and writer who aims to connect with other moms through her experiences with navigating motherhood. Cora is the Editor-in-Chief of Revivalist magazine and writes for sites including For Every Mom, MommyBites and Playground Professionals. When she’s not writing about style and beauty for her magazine, Revivalist, she loves to share her experience with family life. Follow Cora on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.