How simple it is when your child is young and there’s a play date, it’s usually because the adults are friends and also want to spend some time together. Then comes preschool and kindergarten and all of a sudden your children are asked to play at another child’s home and you do not know the family.
I remember playing at my best girlfriend’s house when I was little. We met in kindergarten and, as the youngest of six children, she was my first “real” friend of my own. I loved going to her house to play. It was lots messier than my house and the rules were pretty relaxed. Her mom thought it was fine for us to play in her closet, dress up in her clothes, wear her shoes, even get into (sometimes) her make-up and perfume.
Of course, my mom did know her mom (it was a very small town) and they would always have a cup of coffee together when she’d come to pick me up.
As for me, I loved the different rules at my friend’s house. We could be wilder, get into more things and were left more to our own devices. I relished the sense of independence and adventure I felt there. I believe my mom understood the differences in style, but felt comfortable with who my friend’s mom was and that, even with a bit more freedom, she knew I would still be okay.
I’ve talked with some parents who were concerned about play dates at homes in which they did not know the family. What would the rules be, who would be supervising the children, what about medicines and cleaning supplies- were they in a safe place? Are there guns in the house and are they locked up? What about the above-ground pool in the back yard? What are the rules for the trampoline? Is the large dog barking at the door friendly to children?
As parents we want to make sure our children are safe. It is up to us to make the effort to meet the parents of our children’s friends. Have a cup of coffee together – go to the park with the children. Ask the difficult questions about supervision or other concerns. If the parent reacts negatively, then use your own good judgment about what that tells you.
Many of your concerns can be sensitive issues but offered with a smile and a confession that you are indeed a protective parent, most families will appreciate your intentions and do what they can to make you feel assured.
Make it clear to your child what rules from home go with her when she is playing in another child’s home. She needs to know the difference between the important rules she must never break, like playing with matches, or leaving the friend’s house to go and play at another child’s house without permission, and other ones that are just a difference in style.
I remember at my little friend’s house, lunchtime was help yourself time and she and I would conjure up a “lunch feast” that perhaps only two six-year-olds would. My mom, on the other hand, always prepared our lunch at our house, but, fortunately, didn’t let this difference in style get in the way of my special friendship.
It’s all about judgment, your own comfort level, finding the right balance and observing the patterns of friendship as they blossom.
And then, knowing the answer when your child asks,” Can I go play?”