When good play dates go wrong

So, you have a few play-dates under your belt and feel like a play-date pro. Maybe you even pride yourself on having the coolest play-date house because you have two super chill dogs, a cat who could care less and a turtle – always a show stopper for pet-free children.

You prided yourself on an awesome costume box and transformed a cozy, under the stairs closet into a SECRET CLUB (kid-cave) for your kiddo and her homies with glow in the dark stars on the walls and a beanbag chair for chilling.

Not to mention super awesome toys- bongos, accordion, drum kit, cash register, and a garbage truck that Grace has zero interest in until Marty, Hopper, Mahon or Bacon (hipster names. I know.)  show up for a 2-hour playdate.

Since we’ve hosted play-dates for years now, we have pre-play-date chats where we review our Play-date Rules of Conduct while tidying up (sweeping dog hair under the couch):

ME: Gracie, what toys will you be able to share?

GRACE: All of them.

CANADA: Including your brand new ukulele?

GRACE: That’s not a toy. It’s an instrument.

(It’s plastic, costs 7 dollars, is purple, polka-dotted and resembles a musical instrument the way Olaf resembles snow.)

ME: OK, then we will put this away where no one will treat it as a toy. Also, since we are hosting Marty, our guest always chooses the movie we watch. Got it?

GRACE: As long as it’s NOT The Little Engine That Could.  We just watched that last time.

ME: OK, but play-date rule number one and two are?

GRACE: ‘Sharing is caring’ and ‘Teamwork makes the dream work.’

We hide the ukulele and the movie (which I’d LOVE to regift to someone I consider a dark, evil enemy (it’s that bad).

And smug as a Prius, I believe we have scrubbed our house of Play-date Conflict Targets.  Marty arrives, and the kids are thrilled to rush off and dress up as cowboy-astronauts and a Spider-Batman-ninja hybrid.

Twenty minutes later we take our first play-date cocktail sips in the backyard, when our living room sounds like Dunkirk (the movie and the conflict).  We wait because we believe our almost 6 year olds are capable of conflict resolution, based on their 5 years of friendship.

Then the toy cash register (and piles of fake dollars) fly down the backyard steps, followed by Grace and Marty sobbing, spewing accusations and swearing never to be friends ever again.

We ask the combatants friends to air their grievances, guest always going first, without interruptions by Grace.

MARTY: I was playing store then Gracie said she owned the store. I wanted to be a cashier. Then she took the register, grabbed all the monies out and how can I have a store if I don’t have payments or a record.

GRACE: It’s MY cash register. So is the monies. He took the cash register and wouldn’t give it back, so it fell down the whole stairs. You’re not my friend anymore.

MARTY: I want to go HOME.

Calmly, I offer them snacks and drinks first.

ME: Okay, let’s have some snacks while we make the teamwork.

They hoover snacks and drinks. Both are,e hungry because the food is soothing their inner savages.

ME: It’s SO frustrating when we don’t get our way, but let’s try not to say mean things just to hurt each other. Grace, what would you like to speak to Marty, who seems very hurt by your unkind words.

GRACE: Marty, I’m sorry I got mad and did terrible sharing.

And because we have a family rule about apologies, I remind Grace…

ME: What else do we say to make an apology stick like glue?

GRACE: I promise to do better next time.

ME: Marty, do you have anything you’d like to add?

MARTY: OK, Grace. Is there more Pirate’s Booty?

ME: Sure! Now,  let’s have a play-date do-over! No throwing toys, no yelling or being mean, and lots of sharing. Let’s see how fast you two can pick up the cash register and all the money! I’ll time you!”

Then we all put our hands in, vow “BEST PLAY-DATE EVER!”. The kids clean up their mess, run back inside and we get to drink in peace. It all works out entirely until the next time.

This article generously contributed by Kathleen Dennehy aka This Old Mom www.thisoldmom.com

All pictures by Tati Scutelnic

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