Play date etiquette
Fitness and play

Play date etiquette

Dad-of-two Steve Cummins looks at play date etiquette – who knew there was such a thing?!

I was never very good at going up to a girl and asking for her number. I’d fantasise about doing it and practice for days but I’d always end up mumbling something unintelligible or chickening out entirely.

Now that I’m a parent I’m expected to be able to walk up to a woman I’m on bare nodding terms with and ask for her number to arrange a ‘play date’. I’m a grown man at a playground chatting up young mothers. How have I fallen so low?

It works both ways

Play dates are great. Well, they’re great 50% of the time. The other 50% is tainted by the dreaded obligation of reciprocation. I always try to ensure that I arrange the first play date to be at my house when the kids are hopefully a bit wary around each other and less likely to flush the family cat down the toilet.

That way when they’re more comfortable with each other’s mischievous ways my house isn’t the scene of the carnage.

The fear

You live in constant fear when you’re caring for someone else’s child. If they accidentally get decapitated by your wire clothesline and poor choice of trampoline placement then there is a better than fair chance that the parent who comes to collect them (or both pieces of them) might be a tad miffed.

I once had a friend of my eldest over for a play date and during the course of it, he crashed on my son’s bike and ended up with a fairly bad scrape on his ribcage. You can, I’m sure, imagine the jaw clenching politeness from his mother when I showed her the extent of her velocipedally challenged son’s injuries. She went to great pains to reassure me that it was no problem, that it could have happened anywhere and that it was just one of those things.

They left with lofty promises of more fun times in the future. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of either of them since. I think that they chose to move house rather than risk another visit to my home.

Parenting other kids

Play dates are great for you when they aren’t in your home and they’re great for your child either way. They get a chance to socialise with their peers and you get the chance to pass judgement on someone else’s kid. “Someone didn’t teach little Johnny to say please and thank you, hmm?”

I once had a six-year-old over and at one stage he walked up to me and said that he needed to “do a poo”. I pointed him in the direction of the toilet and left him to it. Five minutes later the door to the toilet opened and the child shouted, “I’ve done my poo”. I felt that he was a little over proud of completing such a basic and necessary function so I ignored him.

The next minute he called out again. This time he cried, “Come and wipe my bum,”. There was no way I was going to wipe another kid’s bum and especially not a six-year-old one. I simply called back, “There’s baby wipes in there and you know where your bum is. You’ll work it out.” I don’t know if he managed it but there was no noticeable smell coming off him afterwards so I feel that it was win-win.

So there you have it. Make sure that the first play date happens in your home, don’t wipe the strange kid’s bum and try not to wound them where the marks can be seen. See you at the playground.

More like this:

Disciplining other people’s kids
TV addicts
Managing a busy family

Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.


Why is play important

Playing with your baby can encourage their mental and physical development and you’ll have lots of fun!



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….