How to avoid playdate hell

Kinderling News & Features

You know how everyone talks about the joy of finding your community/tribe and raising your kids in a modern village?

I finally understood what that meant on a recent and successful playdate.

It made me realise as a working mum, my village is actually just a playdate that does what it says on the box.   

For me that comes down to two things:

  1. Where all the kids are (mostly) happy and content and play with each other;
  2. I leave happy and content and even managed to have a decent chat to my friend.

Our most recent experience of this took place sitting on on a beautiful beach on the south coast of New South Wales. I spent the afternoon happily chatting to a dear friend while our children played around us in the water, on the sand and the rocks.

It sounds idyllic because it was.

Think about how you want to feel at the end of the day

Only two of the four children were the same age, but everyone played happily together despite the fact.

There were no swings to push or bikes to chase around. Just the sand, the sounds of the waves and a collection of rock pools.

The sun was shining and by the end of the day I had two tired, happy kids and I felt a tiny piece of me had been restored. My cup was full again.

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It made me realise that in our bid to connect with other people, sometimes that’s just about stripping back to basics and getting the details right.

Easier said than done, obviously.  As we all know, kids and their moods can be subject to change on a whim. Or a broken bicycle. Or the wrong sippy cup. Or a broken night’s sleep. Or... No need to go on. 

Getting the details right

Try as we might, we parents usually have Buckley's chance of controlling those parts of our day, but what I’ve come to realise is that there are certain factors that - done right - can help set a playdate on the right track.

1. Timing is everything

Afternoons work best for me and my kids because it allows us a slow morning at home and an opportunity for me to tackle some housework before we go.  I always aim for a meet-up after the baby’s lunchtime sleep and before the 4pm meltdowns ensue. Your kids may be different. You may also not really know what works for you guys yet, so just experiment for a while until you find your happy spot. Get the timing right and I think you eliminate (most) of the stress.

2. Snacks ahoy!   

Pack lots of food. In fact, bring more than what you need. And bring stuff for the other kids too. Also, ALWAYS bring some water in a bottle, baby wipes and some spare clothes. Yes, it sounds like you’re preparing for the Armageddon but also means you can turn up, have a good time and STAY at your destination until you actually want to go home.

3. Plan a specific activity or head to a location

Parks, pool, bike track, bush walk or just a sprinkler in the backyard, box of Lego on the kitchen table or some paints and paper on the back deck. Starting the playdate this way gives kids a warm-up zone. They can focus on doing the 'planned thing' instead of clinging to your leg while they reacquaint themselves, and get comfortable with the friends you’re meeting up with. 

4. Bring spare clothes for everyone

See #2. I have an old canvas bag in the boot packed with spare undies t-shirts, shorts and long tops for any unforeseen mishaps. Spilled ice-cream, mud, rain, too much sun, wet pants or nappy explosions (shudder).

5. Make the playdate the only  focus of your day

And by that I mean, try not to plan much at all aside from your playdate that day; depending on the age of your kids, one activity per day is enough for everyone AMIRITE?

Got a golden rule of your own to add to this list?