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How to be a Proper Play-Date Host

My preschooler, now in summer session with limited daycare, is fully on the play-date circuit.  With new friends circling through the house and with him going to different friends' homes, I am noticing trends.  Little folks get possessive and territorial, it is hard to share!  This is normal, I realize, but I often run out of ways to mediate.  When we host, I let the boy know that he needs to put things away if he absolutely cannot share.  Everything else is fair game.

At his friend's house the other day, there was a squabble over a particularly shiny race car.  The host boy ran to his parent for assistance.  His parent said: "You're the host.  Let your friend play with it."  It wasn't the answer the boy was hoping to hear.

I've never used the comment: "Be a good host" with the connotation that he should let the other friend have the toy/turn.  Perhaps I'm not a good host.  What are the elements for our youngest folks, the preschool set, to be the "proper play date host"?

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We had good luck telling our child "Your friend L is coming over to play soon! If there's anything you don't think you want to share while he's here we should put it out of reach before he arrives."

Obviously not an in the moment fix, but definitely lead to smoother playdates.

I've always taught my littles to be good hosts as in the OP's experience. I think it's good words to use with them, and a good concept that we are gracious, sharing, and let our guests choose because we can choose/play with/etc later when our guest has gone home. I've probably been confusing, too, though because I tell them that when they go to someone else's house they have to be good guests, which might mean doing what the host wants if they don't follow the same hosting guideline that we do!

I have a 16 year old, a 7 year old and a 2 year old. One strategy that I've learned over the years is to not expect others to be playing from the same playbook. It is wise to watch what others do, give it a shot if you like it, and decide for yourself whether you will keep it or if it doesn't work for your family. One thing that doesn't work quite as well is going to other people's homes, seeing how they do it, and then coming away concerned that you aren't clued in, wised up or doing it right.

"Be a good host" means one thing to one family, another thing to another family and is an unwelcome ideology to a third family. This is ok. I think it is our job to be as comfortable in our own skin as we can be, accept ourselves and accept others (or steer clear) for who they are and what they believe in. And yeah, there's always going to be challenges sharing for the little ones. I do swift turn taking at my house using the ABC song. At someone else's house, I'd just let their parents deal with their own kids' limitations.

I think play dates are a really good opportunity to teach kids to problem-solve conflict, including how to share toys. With my own two kids, who are very close in age, I do a two step process when they have conflict over sharing. First, I frame the problem for them (because this is the step that is just a little far out of reach for the preschool set). I say, "Hmmm, it sounds like E. wants that shovel back, and I. also wants it." Then, I say, "I wonder how we can solve this problem?" Honestly, nine times out of ten, one of the kids will come up on their own with some completely workable solution that they are both happy with. This doesn't take very much time, and the kids are generally way happier with the solution they came up with than my solution. And it has the added benefit of teaching kids to resolve conflict peacefully.

That said, I do also set up playdates with my 6 year old with the expectation that a good host does let the guest choose the first game. I also put away favorite toys that I know my kids would have a really hard time sharing.

Wow. This is going waaay back (she's now 13 and past the age of 7 or 8, I took the "you need to work this out for yourselves or I'll just have your parents get you early" to quash conflicts of any kind) for me, but....

I see nothing with pointing out that your kid's friend is their guest and they are the host or hostess---it's a nice way to instill this sort of thought process in your child. Conversely, I never expected other kids parents (past basic safety and sanitary conditions) to do things in the same manner that we did.

We were also more likely to do an activity not at home, so more often than not, there was minimal toy fighting, anyway. Though I will say my daughter and her friends were obsessed with Pretty, Pretty Princess and one of them used to weep (not mine) whenever someone got the crown and she didn't.

This is why it was always really hard for us to do playdates like others are able to do them. Our easiest solution was to meet up in neutral places like the park or a museum or a cafe. And, being that we've never lived near school, it's usually been better for other parents to meet at their place or a neutral. The side effect is that even now he'll still pick going to someone else's house or meeting elsewhere rather than ever inviting anyone over here as it's just more fun to use their toys than share his own. He also has a long way to go in learning some things like graciousness and tact, but I don't think that's abnormal at his age.

For the sharing issue itself, I've taken my cue from how our school handles it... no one has to give up a turn at any certain time, but once they are made aware that someone is waiting, they aren't to just hang onto it when you know someone is waiting- that's when it's time to 'finish up'. Now that my child is 8, if he's in with preschoolers, I often will point out that they're just not going to use it very long anyway, their attention will shift. He then can wait it out or move on. Just expressing "I'd like to use that next" seemed to go over well, though perhaps it has to do with playing with kids from the same school who would understand... as it has always been harder in other groups. In those cases, he's just learned if they don't listen, to walk away. I can't think I've ever had to mediate much, I don't tend to get involved in directing other kids- if anything, I'll tell me own how he can handle it, but not the other kids.

Also... I've often diverted kids to find an activity that doesn't involve sharing at all. Though then, you can get into who will choose the activity, which can also go back to host/guest... I guess I'm lucky that mine will figure it out- someone is always the leader and someone is always the follower or they take turns on their own. Occasionally, I'll hear 'they won't do what I want' or 'I don't want to do what they want', for which my answer is 'find something to do that you both like or take turns'.

Of course, I'm also NOT in a playdate circuit this summer... kiddo is less than interested in setting up more than about one a month (nor are others beating down our door to play with us) and the same logistical challenges of 'busy' that apply during school apply now too. Seems everyone we know is willing to 'go on break' and see us in a few months.

I used to go with the "let them play with it since you are the host idea" but it would backfire when we went to the friend's house and they wouldn't return the sharing with my son. He felt like it was really unfair and to this day he will always point out when things are unfair. I feel guilty for making him feel somehow less worthy because he had to give up his toys and others didn't. With our second, we just set a timer for using a toy so they know that their turn will end. We've been at friend's houses where the parent doesn't encourage sharing at all and just goes along with whatever their child wants and I think that is truly bad hosting.

@Ania, I see your point, but to me, that's an excellent opportunity to discuss how life isn't always fair, just because other parents don't have such expectations for their kids, doesn't mean you don't etc.

Your children will always encounter parents (and people) who "aren't fair", do things differently, etc. Doesn't mean you can't still teach your child good manners and behavior.

I think the "be a good host" thing instills pride and responsibility in a kid. That other parents handle things differently isn't gonna change that. But then, as above, I'm a firm believer in teaching kids to solve their own issues----and more often than not, if another kid won't share their stuff at their house, it's a symptom of a crabby-ish kid.

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