Fighting, puking, crying. No, this isn’t the bar at closing time. This is playdate drama.
To those without kids, playdates may seem like cute events filled with calm crafts and organized games. Parents know the truth, though. Children are unpredictable little creatures that can go from calm to crazy in 3 seconds, and the more kids, the more craziness.
Most parents have experienced at least one wild playdate. If you ever want proof, just head to social media, where parents have posted their tales of terror, hilarious moments, and cringe-worthy mishaps. We gathered a list of issues that parents have posted, along with advice from Gail Saltz, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast.
The result? Here are the best ways to handle the worst playdate problems.
Playdate Problem #1: Profane Language
Surprise! Your little guest is slinging profanity like a salty sailor. Before you break out the soap to wash their dirty mouth, take a breath and stay calm. Tell all children present (including your own) that the house rule is no bad words. “Do not say they were personally bad, do not raise your voice, do not ask them about using those words — like who does it, where did they hear it, when do they say. Just say all bad words are off-limits,” Saltz says.
Playdate Problem #2: Puke Etiquette
Let’s put puke into the “playdate nightmare” category. It’s miserable, awkward, and yucky. But here’s the thing: It’s also normal. “When playdates happen, accidents happen,” Saltz says. “No one pukes on purpose. In fact, likely the puking child feels just awful, embarrassed.”
Be careful not to shame the sick child. Shame can stay with kids and lead to bigger problems later on. The parent of the sick child should bring their kid home, but offer to help clean up first.
Playdate Problem #3: The Mother Judger
No one likes being judged. And no one likes looking like a hypocrite. When another parent brings battle cries to the playdate, try to avoid taking the bait. Saltz suggests making a light-hearted comment that you have different parenting styles and that both styles have benefits. Remember that your children are present, and an argument is not good for them. Instead, your child will see that you can stick up for yourself without being mean or attacking another person.
Playdate Problem #4: Bring Your Kids, Not Your Germs
Your child’s friend arrives with snot dripping from their nose and a loud, gunky cough. Perhaps you are the most relaxed parent on the planet, and you barely notice their symptoms. On the other hand, you might be a parent who panics at the slightest sniffle — to be fair, we did just experience a pandemic.
If you find yourself at a playdate with a sick child, be honest about your concerns. Most parents will understand that you are worried about viruses. Try to emphasize that both children will have more fun when they feel well. “Don’t sound angry, just sound resolute,” Saltz advises.
Playdate Problem #5: Screen Time Terrors
What’s worse than kids playing Squid Game at school? Kids watching Squid Game on Netflix and then suffering through a million bloody nightmares.
It’s best to prevent bad situations before the playdate by telling the host parent that your child is not allowed to watch certain shows, Saltz says. If your child is exposed to an inappropriate show or video game at a friend’s house, talk to your child about how to handle similar situations in the future. Your child can say their family has a rule not to watch certain shows, and they can leave the room to find another activity. Teaching your child to advocate for themselves will be most helpful in the long run.
Playdate Problem #6: The Walk In
“This ones on you, Mom; lock the bathroom door!” Saltz says. If the situation was your mistake, own it. Tell your little visitors that you’re sorry you forgot to lock the door. Be careful not to make the kids feel bad or embarrassed. You can calmly let the other child’s parents know about the incident and how you handled it.
Playdate Problem #7: The Spartan Warrior Child
Regardless of the reasons, hurting another person is never OK. Children, especially toddlers, may use physical actions to express their feelings, but parents should always help kids to learn healthier ways to handle emotions.
“Never allow your child to accept abuse,” Saltz says. Separate the children and suggest better ways to address an issue. You can also enlist help from the other child’s parents by saying their child may not have been the sole perpetrator, but they did hit/bite/kick your child, and you’d like to have both kids fix the problem using words.
Playdate Problem #8: Pure and Utter Destruction
Kids break stuff. It’s inevitable, especially with younger children. As kids get older, they can learn self-control and respect for their friends’ possessions.
Regardless of your child’s age, damage control is possible. Step one is keeping your valuables out of harm’s way. Don’t leave your Tiffany vase in the playroom. Step two is talking with your own child about responsibility. At playdates, kids may embolden one another to act out. By teaching your child to be cautious, you lower the odds of accidents happening. Step three is talking to the other child’s parents if accidents do occur. The reason for talking to the other child’s parents is not necessarily to ask for funds to replace damaged items – the decision to do that depends on factors like finances, relationship, etc. By telling the other child’s parents about the incident, you give them the opportunity to teach their child about appropriate conduct.
“Damage is less about getting your pound of flesh, and more about teaching your child and perhaps another child about the slippery slope of right and wrong behavior,” Saltz says.