Parents often wonder about the right age to start playdates for their children. Bottom line- there’s no magic number and a lot of factors enter into the decision. Following are a few questions to start the thinking process for your family.
- What are you hoping to accomplish?
Some parents are looking for socializing opportunities for children who may not have siblings, relatives, or neighbors to play with. In some cases, parents are trying to help a child develop a deeper connection with a classmate to help school transitions go more smoothly. Sometimes parents are just trying to find ways they can have a little “me time” in the midst of busy lives. Any of these are reasonable!
- Has your child spent time away from you before?
If the answer is yes, they are a lot more likely to be comfortable with a playdate. If not, you may want to take a few small steps first, like leaving them with a relative for a short period of time, taking them to a story time where you can sit in the back of the group, or having a babysitter come to your home for a trial session in surroundings that are familiar to them. In any case, start with short periods of time until your child gains confidence in their safety and ability to be without you.
- How well do you know potential playdate partners?
Are you setting something up with a trusted friend or neighbor? Is the playdate with a classmate whose family you don’t know at all or may only know casually? There’s a fine line between being a “helicopter parent” and being a cautious one. Children are vulnerable, and we need to be comfortable that we are not placing them in an unsafe situation. If you don’t know a family well, you might want to start with playdates that include parents from both families for awhile until you feel more secure with the situation yourself.
- Does your child have health concerns?
Does your child have allergies or a medical condition that may require some education in advance for a parent hosting your child? Does your child have any particular fears such as big dogs, loud noises, thunder storms etc.? Be honest in sharing anything they might need to know to be certain they are comfortable and prepared should your child need some assistance.
- Are you willing to reciprocate?
Playdates are a two-way street. Generally, the expectation is that each family will take a turn or turns hosting a playdate. If you don’t want to open your home, you may want to consider if accepting an invitation for your child is right for you.