9 Rules That Are Absolutely Nonnegotiable When It Comes to Play Dates

Play dates. Every mom has a love-hate relationship with them. Love, mostly because they're a great way to keep your kids entertained, happy, and socializing. Hate, because dealing with other people's kids can be less than fun — and let's not even talk about what your house is going to look like by the time that last kid leaves. (At my almost-7-year-old daughter's last play date, she and her friends somehow managed to coat her carpet in a red lipstick I didn't even know she owned.)

However, that love-hate dichotomy only comes into play when you've mustered up the bravery to host a play date. Attending one — or even better, dropping your kid off — at someone else's house is usually a joy (who doesn't love a couple of kid-free hours to do whatever you want?), but even that lovely setup comes with a set of rules. Whether you're having a play date at home or your kid's going to one at a friend's house, here are nine nonnegotiable rules you all should be following.

  1. Don't be that mom who always RSVPs yes but never hosts. Allowing a bunch of crazy kids into your house to inevitably wreak havoc, cause some kind of damage, and unearth every messy, obnoxious toy you own is a big deal, so be fair about it. If you're not willing to host kids in your house, then it's not really cool to frequently send them to other people's homes. One suggestion: if you're not a group play date person (and who is?), limit your own play dates to one friend, and you'll still get hosting points with a lot less mess.
  2. Two hours is usually about right for grade-school-aged kids; one hour is plenty for babies and toddlers. Play date time should definitely be determined by the kids' ages. While the hosting mom has the final say, it's good form to talk to all the parents about how long the play date should last before it starts.
  3. Prepare your kids by teaching them to mind their manners and be a good guest. If you don't trust that your child can be nonviolent, self-controlled, and nondestructive, then don't send them to anyone else's house. Before you attend a play date, make sure your kid knows that they're expected to be polite, share, help tidy up, and be on their best overall behavior — or another play date won't be in their near future.
  4. Don't assume you're good to drop your kid off — or that you're invited to stay. Before the play date starts, have a talk with the hosting mom about whether she's OK with a drop-off situation or if she'd like you to stay. If you're the host, take the lead so that your guests don't have to ask. It's as easy as sending a text saying, "We'd love to have Joey over for a play date from 2 to 4 p.m., then we can drop him off or you can pick him up." This is especially important when your kids are in their old-4s, early-5s, when play dates are usually transitioning to drop-off.
  5. If your kid has allergies or dietary restrictions, it's on you to send snacks and make sure they're in a safe environment. Don't assume a hosting mom knows what your kid can and can't eat or be around. Make it clear that she's gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, or allergic to dogs; otherwise, you can't be angry if she comes home with hives.
  6. Follow the "your-house-your-rules" and "her-house-her-rules" motto. Every mom has a different set of rules about screen time, snacks, appropriate play areas, etc. It's best to loosen your own set of guidelines and follow the host's lead when sending your kid to a play date. Give her too many rules to follow for your kid, and don't expect to be invited back anytime soon. A little break from the usual house rules won't hurt your child; in fact, learning that every family is different can actually be a good thing for them.
  7. If you have to continually discipline another child, talk to the parent about it, even if it's awkward. No one wants to discipline another person's kid, but if that kid is being destructive or potentially causing herself or someone else harm, it's your job to put your foot down — and to tell her parents about their behavior when they pick them up. You'd want them to do the same, even if it's a little awkward.
  8. If your kids are old enough, make them help clean up. For years, when friends asked if I needed help cleaning up after a play date, I'd say no. At the time, I preferred to get the extra toddler bodies out of my house over an extra set of hands. But now that my kids and their friends attending our play dates are older, I always request that the kids spend the last few minutes of their play date tidying up. It may not be their favorite part of the day, but it ensures I'll be more likely to say yes when my daughter wants to have them over again.
  9. Express gratitude (and maybe drop off a bottle of wine). A sincere thank-you is a must, but if your child has been invited for an extended play date or has left a friend's home looking like a real disaster zone, a post-play-date bottle of wine might just get you a return invitation.