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Preschool Playdate Dilemma: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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"Mama?" My preschooler tugged on my leg during last Saturday's house-cleaning frenzy. I turned off my vacuum to hear her better. "Are we having a playdate today?"

kids on a play date

"No, honey, not today," I told her.

"Then why are we cleaning the house?" she wondered.

Forget for a moment -- if you can -- what that says about my housekeeping abilities, so I can make my point: When preschool friends come over, I'm never really sure if I'll be entertaining their moms, too. Likewise, when we go to a new friend's house to play, I have to decide whether I should stay and visit or come back and pick my kiddo up.

Should I stay or should I go? It's the preschool parent's dilemma.

It's happened both ways for us. Sometimes we'll invite someone new over and mom will stick around, giving us a chance to chitchat awkwardly get to know each other while our kids destroy the playroom. This is why my preschooler now associates cleaning with playdates, because I'm always scrambling to get our house in order ... just in case.

Other times, parents have dropped their kiddos off with a kiss and then asked me when to pick them up. I'll admit I love those the best: House clean, kids entertained by their friends -- I can finally take a break!

Maggie Macauley, owner of Whole Hearted Parenting, director of Redirecting Children's Behavior South Florida and 2008 ABWA Parent Educator of the Year, says that deciding whether or not to leave your child alone during a playdate is "personal and relative." She recently e-mailed some tips to me that might help waffling parents with this common dilemma:

Trust your instincts. If you are not comfortable with leaving your child -- even if you can't logically explain it -- remain at the playdate with your child, or have the playdate at your house.

Get to know the hosting family. If you do not know the host of the playdate well, schedule a few playdates where you will be present and get to know the family. Make sure the host is sensitive to any needs your child might have, such as allergies, food preferences and sensitivities.

Ask your child how he feels about having a playdate without you present. Young children can let you know how they feel, even if it is communicated nonverbally. Give him details on who he will be visiting, and ask how that sounds. If he looks engaged and wants to go, great. If he isn't interested or acts afraid, it may not be the right time. On that note, Macauley says that if your child isn't a natural risktaker and is hesitant, that doesn't mean he's not interested in staying.

Use communication as your guide. The more your child can communicate with you, the better. You want him to be able to tell you what happened when you weren't there.

How do you decide when it's OK to let your preschooler play on her own? Am I the only one whose kid associates a clean house with company coming over?

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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
Perplexed April 26, 2010, 5:15 AM

I’m confused. I have always thought the concept of play dates was to give the mothers a chance to talk to someone while their children played together. Dropping your child off and leaving sounds like not having to pay for a babysitter while you go off and do something else. Is leaving the child and coming back later that common?

mollysmom:) April 26, 2010, 5:43 AM

we have a playdate once a month for my dd pre k class and i LOVE it when the mom’s drop and dash!! i already know the moms from talking when we pick up/drop off at pre k so we feel comfortable leaving our kids with each other. it’s the same when the other girls have a playdate, it’s basically giving the moms a couple of hours to themselves instead of cleaning, running errands or in my case i work from home. now the first time at a new house we all stay but after that drop and dash :) if you don’t feel comfortable being at a house no way should you leave your child there.

Renee Mosiman April 26, 2010, 7:44 AM

I always liked to stay for a playdate. My playdates were organized through I socialized with the moms and we became very good friends. Even though my kids are older now, I still get together with the moms and kids through out the year.

Renee, author of
Gold Winner Mom’s Choice Award

Anon April 26, 2010, 3:33 PM

Playdate. Who thought up that lame term?

Black Iris April 26, 2010, 5:34 PM

When my children were preschool aged I usually stayed for playdates. Which meant my children’s social life was mostly based on which moms I liked.

M Klein April 26, 2010, 9:27 PM

LOL at your kid associating cleaning with playdates… I like the tips you shared.

It is also important to know your child. If you know that your kid is social and adapts well, it’s easier for you to let him be on his own. If, however, he is prone to get into conflict and you find yourself mediating often, then perhaps you should stick around a little longer. Try making your presence useful though by coaching your child toward more independence and flexibility while playing.

M. Klein, MS, OTR/L
Author of

Rachel  April 27, 2010, 12:46 AM

Surely ‘playdates’ were designed to give a child some extra interaction/playtime (as opposed to being dragged round the supermarket or watch Mummy iron yet again) - and the mother some free time in which to remind herself she’s human.

I’m sure it doesn’t stipulate in the post-delivery Mummy manual that you should use these precious few hours making small talk with someone who’d rather you weren’t there!

As long as you know your child is happy and safe, I’d say drop and run….

Rachel Henwood
Freelance Writer
Blogging about life and the joy of surviving kids.

Ten Tees January 9, 2011, 9:38 AM

Interesting information. Nice and fun reading. I’ve just got a observation to submit about funny t-shirts.

Partizannka February 2, 2011, 12:52 AM

To be honest I do not get the connection between your cleaning habits and the playdates.. Vax Spares

Anna February 2, 2011, 12:56 AM

And what does it gave to do with cleaning and Vax Spares??

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