Playdate Etiquette - Siblings and More

Updated on January 21, 2012
C.T. asks from Chester, NY
16 answers

Hi Mamas-

I was curious how you would handle this one.... Last weekend, my daughter (4) asked for a playdate with a classmate. I made several calls and finally found a child available mid-afternoon on Sunday. The date was arranged for about 2 hours from 3 to 5. I would have gone earlier, but the child had an obligation that kept them at home until after 2:30. The woman I spoke to turned out to be the Grandma (which is no big deal to me) and when she came over, she shouwed up with her cup of dunkin tea in tow and stayed. Again, not a huge deal and it was kind-of nice to have adult company, but she also brought the older sibling. The child wsa one year older (so 5YO) and she seemed to play just find with everyone, but I was not expecting her. And the grandmother did not ask if she could come along or indicate that this would have to be a "package" deal. I had to set out an extra snack (which both children refused) and an extra craft. I was a little bit surprised, but (I hope) I did not make a big deal out of it. What do you ladies think?

Honestly, I don't do a lot of playdates so I have a few questions:
1) What timing do you usually use? late AM/afternoon/early evening?
2) What is a good length for a play date?
3) Do most parents stay? Is this age dependent? How do you ask if the guardian is staying or not?
4) How do you handle the sibling factor?
5) Are there food rules? Two hours gets a crust of bread and water, but something longer gets a turkey dinner? I joke, but I just don't know.

I personnally would never assume anything and I always ask if the parents want me to stay, if siblings are okay, etc. Am I being overly sensitive by asking all these questions?

Let me know. What are your playdate etiquette rules?

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So What Happened?

I appreciate the insights thus far.

This situation was just so different from the playdate I expereinced before Christmas when the Mom dropped the child off. She came in, met everyone, inspected the house and left. If she had been uncomfortable, I would have completely welcomed her to stay but she said she had errands to do with an older child. We exchanged numbers/cells and she left. The girls were fine. And, because that was a "later" playdate from 4 to 6-ish, I served dinner (I had checked with the Mom for allergies before she left).

It is so cold right now that playdates at home seem to be the only option (at least for my family since finances are tight and a McD or someother place with an "indoor" area would require a fee - either in an entrance fee or food or whatever). I have been looking into some local museums/child-friendly art galaries but not all are free.

I am just trying to get a pulse on what is polite and if I need to be more specific the next time.

Again, keep the comments coming, I am learning so much.

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answers from New York on

You call invite the kid over. Tell the parent what time to pick up. If you want
adult company, invite Mom to stay. I mean really, there are rule to kids
playing? If they get hungry given them something to eat. If they get bored
direct them. Most kids like the freedom to play together without scheduled
crafts. I mean it seems there whole life is a schedule, so when you have
someone for a playdate, just let them play.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Syracuse on

I have a 2 and 3.5 year old and have hosted and attended several playdates. Around here, this is the norm...

1) Timing- almost always in the morning, 10-10:30 but occasionally in the afternoon. Morning is usually preferred by mom's because kids seem to be at their best.
2) Length - 1.5-2 hrs.
3) Parents have always stayed. The only time I ever drop my child off and not stay is when a good friend watches them for me if I have an appt. or something. I would never just drop my child off with someone I don't know very well. I would also always assume that the other parent wants me to stay.
4) At this age, 0-5 I think (before they're in full time school), siblings are always welcome. I would not attend a playdate where they were not welcome as I wouldn't consider getting a sitter for the other child. I've never run into this situation before of siblings not being welcomed.
5) There are no food rules but most kids do like a snack, I always like to offer crackers/grapes, something easy. As a host, I just think it's polite. I usually bake a banana bread and have coffee for mom's if I can. Not all mom's offer a snack and it's not a big deal at all, I always have a snack for them with me.

Hope this helps!

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answers from St. Louis on

open heart, open home, & the world is just so much better!

don't set limits, don't set expectations. Enjoy, embrace....& you might just learn something, too!

Nothing wrong with Gma & older sibling invited & they came!

& mornings are best, except on the wkends. Otherwise, it's naptime for many!
1.5-2 hours is optimal.
Food: make it good, quick & easy, & fairly healthy. Plan on feeding extras.

You know, it used to be that people/friends/neighbors just dropped by. I mourn for the old days....:) Life was so much simpler & friendlier then!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

C., this will work itself out as kids get older; they clearly will start saying they don't want siblings along and they don't want the parents/grandparents to stay!

Parents tend to stay around in the younger years; or if they don't know you well or haven't met you previously; or if it's a first or maybe second play date. Otherwise they don't often hang around unless they're also friends of the adults and it's a grown-up "play date" too -- which is nice.

Siblings? Our daughter's friends' parents would have always asked if they could bring one, but they never did. Mostly parents seem to see play dates as a good opportunity for some one on one time with the sibling!

I would try, next time with this family or with any other:
"Sally would like to have Jen over to play. Can you drop her off at 2 and pick her up at 4? I'll have a snack for them -- does Jen like Goldfish and milk, or would she prefer graham crackers?" That makes it clear up front that: It's a drop off; it's two hours; you will have a snack, not a meal. Just set out the parameters when you issue the invitation.

If you do want to get to know the parent or haven't really met:
"Sally talks about Jen a lot and would like to have her to our house to play. (Arrange the time and date, and then say) Since she hasn't been here before, you can either drop her off here if you like and have other things to do, or feel free to stay for this play date." If the parent says, I'll have a sibling with me, that makes it tougher but for this one play date you could say, "Sure, bring Sib along," or "If it would be easier for you to have some one on one time with Sib, that's fine, just drop Jen off and we'll do great!"

In other words set out the limits as you go. Length of playdates at age 4, maybe two hours. Siblings brought without asking -- well, not a lot you can do short of saying "Please go" but that's not really tenable. You will find most parents won't do that. I think maybe grandma is just of a different generation and so has different expectations of play date and would cut her slack for that!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Allentown on

Well, I am a single mom. I never did play dates. The kids just came over and played. I gave a snack. My daughter now is 13 years old. I am very forward. I used to ask the parents if they wanted to stay or come in, if they wanted to look around, what allergies the kids had and what snacks they liked. I didn't want to give them something they hated and not have anything they liked. When kids came over it used to be just for a few hours. I would ask if the parent wanted to stay if there would be anyone else coming. Just ask so you are not caught off guard. I mean it is your house and you are opening it up to them. You have every right to ask. If the parent is offended you probably don't want your kid hanging out with theirs anyway.. Good luck. It gets easier as they get older and have the same friends.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Parents should always stay when they are not close friends with the other family.

If this had been followed you would have known there was another child.

You would have known if they ate dinner during the time of the play date or later.

You would have known if they wanted to play or not play and do activities.

You would have known the grandmother liked tea and had her brand on hand.

Kids need friends. I always plan play dates in a neutral place at least the first few times. Then we might start getting together at one or the others homes but letting someone else babysit my kids or grand kids is not going to happen unless I have been in the home, have spent a great deal of time with the adults in the household, know how they parent, know if they have inappropriate things within reach of the kids like cleaning supplies and breakable items, etc...

No way in heck are my kiddo's going somewhere by themselves when I have not thoroughly checked the home and people out.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

mid-morning (9-11) or midafternoon (2-4) other times start to go into witching hours. Two hours is preferred at that age.
Parents staying is totally age dependent, and stops for the most part by 2nd grade. I had a couple parent-dates early on in 2nd grade with new kids, the parents stayed to make the child feel comfortable. In terms of both parents and siblings, you need be specific with your invitation: "we'd like to have Janie over for a solo play date tomorrow afternoon. When would it be convenient for you to drop her off?" People can be anxious when drop-off play dates are new, but encourage the parent to go run errands or something and they'll get used to it much faster!
With food, I present the healthiest snack I can that will give them energy to get through the play. Apples with peanut butter, cheese and crackers, etc. the best of what I'd offer my own kids at snack time.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I try to schedule playdates not during meal times. Usually in the afternoon 1 or 2pm. They usually last around 2 hours. I can understand if the parent wants to stay if they don't know you well. I have usually just had parents drop off and pick up on time. I will always give a snack to them when they come. Usually offer juice or water and have choice of crackers, string cheese that kind of thing. Make sure you ask the parent about any allergies so you can know what to offer. I've never had a sibling stay. My kids are 7 & 5 and if one is on a playdate I would never thing the other is invited even if they both know the child.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I work really hard on knowing as many Mom's as possible so when playdates come up I know them well enough to know what will happen. I do not let my child accept playdates to someones house that I don't know Mom, those playdates start at playgrounds or mcdonalds. Public places where we talk the kids play and we start to know each other. Love indoor play areas at mcdonalds burger king and even gulp chuckie cheese. If invited to my house I have never had a mom stay it is usually 1 to 2 hours.

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answers from Chicago on

I would have been surprised too if a sibling came along be grandma stayed. We've gotten into similar situations when we've asked a friend to come play (girl from my daughter's class) only to have the mother arrive with the twin sister telling me how disappointed the twin was that she wasn't invited too! I has no idea the girl had a twin...and I guess I felt like I was getting guilted into keeping both kids. Well, I didn't. Instead I told the other girl we'd be happy to have her come play 1 on 1 next time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

For us and for our friends if you child is younger than kindergarten age the parent always stays for the playdate. Unless the parents know each other very well and the children are best buddies bc they have played together so often. Then it can be a drop off thing. Then once the kids start kindergarten it is rare for the other parent to stay...unless they ask or are invited. Usually the other person asks if it is ok for the sibling to come too. As for food, I just ask if their child is allergic to anything. During the playdate I will ask the child what they would like and give them a few options to choose from. They can pick what they want and then I put it out.

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answers from New York on

I think that many parents of preschool aged kids stay for playdates, especially if they don't know you. It's okay to ask if they plan to stay. If this family doesn't do unsupervised playdates for 4 year olds, and grandma is in charge of the kids for the day, she will have no choice but to bring the five year old along. However, it is wrong to just bring a sibling and assume that is fine. She should have said that "Katie" could come to play with your daughter as long as "Sarah" could come along because she was watching both girls for the day.
Timing does not matter, you can have playdates any time. I would say if the playdate is 3-5, offer the snack early in the playdate so dinner isn't spoiled.
When you're having a first playdate with someone, ask the parent if he/she plans to stay. There were times that I expected a playdate to be a dropoff, and suddenly I was having to entertain a parent when I had other things to do. Thankfully I never had unexpected siblings show up. People shouldn't assume that you just know or expect a sibling to show up. If your kid is in preschool, you may not even know that they have a brother or sister, and I feel it is wrong to bring a kid who your child does not know over to play.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

It drives me crazy when someone sends their kid for a playdate with their nanny. Personally, I'm really doing a playdate so that I can chat with the mother (it's just a bonus that our kids play together).
I usually plan them in the morning at 10 and they usually end around 12 so everyone can get lunch and naps. Sometimes I'll offer chicken nuggets or some easy lunch to the kids if I know the monther or if the kids are having fun, but I rarely feed the adults too since the ending time is so close to lunch. My kids are 3, 5 & 6. My 6-year old does drop-off playdates or goes home after school with friends, before he started school, the 2 younger kids and I would go along with him, or invite the other parent to come here - I do offer the drop off since I know how helpful it might be for other mothers to have some time alone. And since I have 3 kids of my own, and really no other choice but to bring everyhone for a playdate, I'm fine with the other parent bringing siblings. Hope this helps.



answers from Minneapolis on

Since your child is preschool age, and this would be the first visit to your home for her little friend, I think good etiquette would be to invite her Mom or Grandma to stay. Unless you all know each other well, I wouldn't ask for or assume they are comfortable with a drop off. If they are comfortable leaving her after a 10-15 minute visit, I would be fine with that too, as long as they prepped me with any special concerns (allergies, etc). I was fine dropping for a short playdate or having kids be dropped at age 4 after we had all gotten to know each other a little better. Good to discuss this up front when setting the playdate.

Bringing a sibling? Grandma should have asked you first and explained she may have no alternative if she wasn't comfortable leaving the 4 year old. I'd be a little peeved she surprised you by showing up with her.

Length? 2 hours seems standard for that age in my area. Food rules? Usually check with the parents in case of allergies or to see if parents are OK allowing the type of snack you want to serve. Seems like playdate snack is pretty much a standard, expected thing. I always had a snack in reserve, and often waited to call "snack time!" when I sensed the kids needed a distraction from some kind of conflict.



answers from Los Angeles on

Well, there are a lot of variables in playdates. To me, the biggest one is here is that you didn't really know the other adult. When I do playdates, it's always been with a child whose mom I knew pretty well to being with.

My son is also 4 and we haven't started doing dropoff playdates yet, so I always assume that the playdate is a package deal - mom stays and brings any siblings. I've heard once they enter kindergarten, playdates are more often dropoff situations.

I tend to do playdates from 10-12 or from 4:00-5:30, which is the same time frame that works for most of our friends. If it's just one or two kids coming, I'll provide a simple snack and offer some to the mom too. For bigger groups, everyone brings their own. Two hours seems to be the max, especially at someone's house, before the kids start melting down and bickering.

For example, today a friend sent an email to 3 other moms from our group. She said one mom was coming over with her two girls and did the three of us want to join in. Two of us said yes. All the moms stayed the whole time and each one brought a sibling. All just assumed - we are a package deal right now. No snacks were provided but the moms were offered drinks.

Birthday parties are different, but playdates work that way in my group.



answers from Washington DC on

Timing depends on the kids. I know that my child and my friend's daughter have similar schedules and afternoons are fine. With another child, I know that she still naps in the afternoon and mornings are better. Afternoons for older kids are good because it's between meals and you can send them home before dinner. I usually offer a snack (ask about allergies or other food rules) around the 2 hour mark if they will be staying longer.

Right now I mostly stay, unless it's a trusted friend. But I also do a lot of playdates where she is at a playground and I have already driven her to/from so why not stay? I assume at DD's age that they stay. In elementary school they started not staying.

I would let one event ride, but in the future, if I knew about a sibling, I would ask if that sibling was planning on coming, maybe say that the host child really just wanted one friend, etc. I personally would ask about siblings and feel that if the invite does not say "Carl and Jimmy" then it's not for Carl AND Jimmy.

Look at park and rec centers, nature centers, libraries (special events!), indoor mall spaces, etc.

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