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Play Date Haskell Style


This turned into a really long series on Dads facilitating good manners and etiquette. Well, mostly it was a long series because I TOOK THREE MONTHS OFF.

But I’m back to finish off our series with one of the big issues our kids experience in testing their manners in social situations: The Play Date.

But first, a couple of short disclaimers. This first one you’ve seen before several articles ago but I thought I’d better add it again. I don’t want anyone to think I am the EXPERT on all things social, because I’m not. I’m an introvert that grew up lonely and isolated in the barren wastelands of Indiana. Ok, Indiana isn’t that bad . . . but I was pretty much a loner.

Disclaimer #1
I didn’t have personal experience with social interaction much as a kid. I grew up in an Amish area, and the nearest neighbor with a child my age was miles away (several cornfields at least). So, I had to learn much of the information on dealing with neighborhood kids, visiting friends, having ‘play-dates’ through my kids and trying to navigate the experience as a parent. The good thing, is that our family will routinely have ‘pow-wows’ to discuss how to handle social issues. Much of the ideas in this article and others in this series involving ‘other people’ were developed from meeting as a family and discussing how best to handle each experience.

Disclaimer #2
In my day we didn’t use the word “Play Date” it was more commonly referred to as “having someone over” or “Going over to ___’s house.” “Date” makes it sound like it was planned or involved ‘romance.’ I’m pretty sure ‘Play Date’ came as a result of parents that wanted to control their kid’s interaction into prearranged and encapsulated time periods. That’ would be nice. But we dads know that kids need some flexibility and will use this article, and my others, to make even the most unplanned get-togethers a successful experience. For the purpose of easily talking about the process of “going over” or “having over,” I’m going to use the term “play date” to indicate any such informal get-together.

Now, on to the article . . .

Those of you that grew up in any age that wasn’t considered “Millennial,” will probably remember Leave it to Beaver. This TV show originally ran in the 1950’s/60’s and was rebroadcast frequently when I was a kid in the 80’s. It’s had resurgences over the years and you can usually watch it on one of the stations that broadcasts ‘classic’ TV. If all else fails you can probably find it on YouTube.

The show was a depiction of the ideal upper-class family, with good morals and ideals living in a small suburban town somewhere in America. In this family named the Cleavers, there was a mom, dad, and two boys. The show centered around the adventures of the youngest son that had the nickname ‘Beaver.’ However, every story needs a villain, and one of the main foes to this idyllic family dynamic was the teenage neighborhood friend that would frequently visit: Eddie Haskell.

Eddie was deceitful, rude, and mean in his dealings with Beaver and the other kids on the show, but when he visited the Cleaver family, he transformed into an over-the-top, sugary sweet gentleman. All of this being a lead-in to today’s topic of teaching your kids how to show good manners while participating in a play date with their friends.

There are techniques for dads to teach our kids to make sure play date visits are successful. I’ve elaborated a few teaching points for when you share with your kids about being a polite guest or host.

When your kids go to someone else’s house, teach them to:

· Check in: Set some pre-arranged times for the kids to text/call to report on their status. This has several purposes. First, it lets you know that your kids are alive. Also, it gives you the ability to give them some of the classic reminders about behavior, “Remember Billy, always say ‘please’ and ‘don’t eat play-doh.’” The check-in also gives you and your offspring the ability to call a stopping point if the play date is going poorly. I’ll go over this more in my next article, “Tactical Family Code Talking” (stay tuned)

· Accept hospitality: If your kids are offered a cookie or popsicle or some other treat by the hosts, it’s ok to accept. People sometimes like to indulge kids when they are visiting, so give your kids permission to accept reasonable gifts. Cookies = reasonable gift. Season box seats to the Cubs = a little too extravagant.

· Don’t ask for extravagant luxuries: If your kid is over at a friend’s house and gets thirsty, it’s fine to ask for a drink. Or asking to use a towel, or plate, silverware, etc. is all fine. Asking for something that is a reward, treat, or something you couldn’t normally get at your own home, is rude.

· Keep it down inside: Hopefully you’ve taught your kids about ‘inside’ voice vs ‘outside’ voice. Kids naturally will get loud sometimes when playing with friends. Sometimes they will even get rambunctious. Teach your kiddos that playing outside is where loud/rough interaction belongs.

· Don’t travel off property: Pretty typically in our neighborhood, the kids will be at one house, and someone will come up with an idea to travel to another kid’s house. Train your kids to call and ratify any such plans with you before they travel off-property.

· Be safe and speak up: Just because your son/daughter is a guest, doesn’t mean that they have to do things that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Teach them to speak up and say ‘no’ if the situation arises. Note: This is a great time to instruct your kids not to play with power tools, guns, or chemicals at a friend’s house and to report to you anything that is dangerous or suspicious.

When your kids host the ‘play date,’ teach them to:

· Don’t eat if you don’t offer your friends/guests food: For some reason many of the neighborhood kids drop by right at dinner time. . . .

Ok, who am I kidding, I know why they drop by at dinner time. However, sometimes I’m not prepared to feed the masses and everyone will hang out while dinner is postponed. A few times I’ve caught my kids hiding in a corner snarfing (aka fast eating) a bowl of ramen noodles. If there is not enough food to offer to your guests, then hold off on eating until they leave.

· Be discreet: You might need to model to your kids how to tactfully ask you questions without their guest hearing. Then, give them some scenarios when they need to be discreet when a friend visits. Have them quietly ask you if their guest can stay for dinner, or stay longer, or use something special.

· Don’t indulge in a luxury if your friends/guests can’t: Teach your kids not to grab gum, take a shower, play with a special toy, etc. unless your guest is able to do the same thing. Have them practice the discreetness you’ve taught them and privately ask you before they offer a guest anything that is not common to all kids.

· Not get out everything: Friends visit and naturally want to see your ‘stuff,’ but many times it turns into a stuff-a-palooza. Have your kids practice one of the great parenting techniques of all time: clean up one thing before getting out another.

· Speak forthright: Once again, teach your kids not to be afraid to speak up. When a guest has visited long enough, it’s ok to say, “I like you and I enjoy our time together, but let’s quit/go home today. I want to play by myself for a while.” Setting a boundary for yourself is not rude as long as you speak clearly and politely. Helping your kids learn about setting personal limits is a great technique to carry into adulthood.

I re-read through the above lists and find them to be woefully inadequate. I think I need your help.

Please share any of the great tips and ideas you’ve learned from hosting or enjoying play dates.

You might have the information that helps a fellow dad keep their kid safe or to help their kid be polite gentleperson – (that’s politically correct speak for gentleman or lady). Post your great ideas or experiences in the comments.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brad Washburn is a father and husband. He has helped hundreds of people over the last 15 years. In particular, he desires to see fathers be “men after God’s own heart” — a description of King David in the Bible who was a lover, fighter, sheep herder, and harp player . . . .

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