How to raise your children so they’re welcome at other people’s houses ….

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When Fiona and Bridget were very tiny, the purpose of a playdate was mainly to preserve my own sanity. I’d haul my babies to someone else’s place, or welcome their babies to my place, just for the opportunity to have snacks and small-talk with a fellow cooped-up, under-socialized mother. As the girls got older, playdates became a little more annoying. I might spend time at someone else’s house, hollering at Fiona and Bridget. “Don’t touch!” and “Get down!” and “Leave the dog alone!” sometimes composed two thirds of the conversation. Other playdates were on our turf – in which case, the time would be spent cringing and flinching at every crash and smash, and trying to pretend it didn’t matter that a three-foot-tall human tornado was grinding peanut butter into the carpet, using candles as drumsticks, heaving furniture around and leaving murky face prints on every window. In recent years, playdates have become much simpler. Children are dropped off at our house to play with Fiona and Bridget while their parents do their thing, or Fiona and Bridget are dropped off at someone else’s house while Ryan and I do our thing. However, even though the kids are so much more independent and easier to keep alive, there are many moments when I find myself regretting issuing an invitation to other people’s children. At such times, I wish there was a guide to making children better playdates. Enter this guide! Because I can.

Obviously, some patterns are deeply entrenched – so it may just be too late for a few children. For example, if your child is an asshole – and, as we’ve already established, there are many – you might want to use an aggressive treatment rather than a preventative measure. However, this guide could be an indispensable tool for new parents to use as they prune and groom their darlings into people-who-are-welcome-at-other-people’s-houses – or for seasoned parents of reasonably behaved progeny to assess their kids’ performance every now and then. So, without further ado, I present a series of questions that you should ask yourself before sending your offspring to my house:

Can my kid share? Seems kinda basic, yes, but you wouldn’t believe the times I’ve had to settle a sulking (or screaming) match because one of the girls’ friends has pulled a Yertle the Turtle on the house and decided they are the ruler of all that they see. I’ve even been approached the odd time by a kid saying they want an item or piece of clothing to take home and keep. Who does that?

Can my kid play nicely? Again, kinda basic, but a small number of children we’ve hosted have trouble agreeing on an activity, taking turns, losing graciously …. I invite children to our house so that Fiona and Bridget can play with them – not because I feel like sharpening my refereeing skills.

Does my kid clean up his or her messes? Before every playdate, I tell Fiona and Bridget to make sure that one mess is cleaned up before they move on to making another. Sometimes, this works well. Other times, I will see a mess in every room, and I have to remind the girls of the rule about cleaning up behind themselves. Most of the time, our little guests will pitch in cheerfully. However, there have been times when Fiona or Bridget has reported that their friend doesn’t want to clean up the mess – completely ignoring the fact that I never asked if anyone wanted to clean up the mess, I laid down a rule that it must be cleaned up. Recently, Fiona and Bridget have become more bold about insisting on clean-up after having to deal with a few epic messes after their freewheeling pals have gone home – because this mother doesn’t pick up toys anymore.

Does my kid respect other people’s property? I don’t want a hamster-bathing station in the sink. I don’t want make-up fingerprints on every wall from the basement dress-up room to the attic. I don’t want furniture rearranged or things broken. I don’t want my piano banged out of tune. I don’t want my kitchen to become a disaster area because I gave your kid a sliced apple, some caramel dip and a juicebox. And I most definitely don’t want anyone in my bedroom …. Fiona and Bridget don’t even come into the master bedroom without permission – why are so many other people’s kids cool with waltzing into it?

Have I taught my kid manners? If I’m doling out snacks or setting up a movie or supervising a trip to the park, I want to hear as many thank-yous as there are kids present. Before I do any of this, I must first hear an equal number of pleases. Yes, I know – more basics. But these things are important to me. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have spent years teaching them to my own kids. Having spent years teaching good manners to my own kids, I really don’t feel like putting up with other people’s kids’ bad manners.

Is my kid capable of playing without involving adults? I am not a one-woman amusement park. I have your kids over for Fiona’s and Bridget’s enjoyment and social development. I don’t always want to supervise crafting, do magic tricks, provide spa treatments or play board games. In fact, most of the time, all I want is to get through a glass of wine and a section of the newspaper. So there had better be no little people appearing to ask if I can entertain them – or, worse, to announce that they are bored. Yet this has happened more than once …. A few times, I’ve even been followed around the house by a kid who obviously exists primarily in an adult world while Fiona and Bridget played together in one of their bedrooms or the basement. This playdate is not for me!

What does my kid eat? If your child only eats a certain kind of cheese or crackers, doesn’t like most fruits, won’t eat yogurt, turns up their nose at canned alphabet or chicken soup, is only familiar with one or two types of meat and only on one type of bread, isn’t into frozen pizza …. well, maybe you should just send food with him or her. One recent visitor to our house claimed to not know what baloney is. If you want me to like hosting your kid, teach him or her to like baloney.  I am not a gourmet chef, nor even a short-order hash-slinger. I do not enjoy standing in front of my cupboard or refrigerator while Picky Pete shakes his head and says “meh” over my family’s entire food supply.

I’m sure there are more things that make or break a playdate, and I’m sure there are things that annoy the ever-loving freak out of you that wouldn’t bother me at all. I’m also aware that my own little lovelies are not always perfect guests – we’re all a work in progress. But if you give my list some consideration, it might mean the difference between greeting your kids warmly when they arrive versus breaking into a glorious soft-shoe (complete with jazz hands) the moment they walk out my door.

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