Report roundup: Pre-empting parent panic over playdates

The start of a new school year often leads to invitations for children to have a playdate at a new friend's home. Sometimes, the parents do not know each other. Our October Mott Poll report asked parents of children age 4-9 years about their approach to playdate invitations. Parents and media across the country have been discussing their preferences and concerns about playdates with unfamiliar friends, and how they handle these situations for their children. Here’s a roundup of the conversation.

When things don’t feel right

Half of parents in the Mott Poll have declined a playdate because they did not feel comfortable leaving their child in the other parent's care. This was the focus of a HealthDay article, 1 in 4 parents say no to playdate invites. Reporter Robert Preidt noted that 22% of parents would say no to a playdate invitation at the home of a family they did not know well. “Before parents send their child on a playdate, they need to feel confident that their child will be safe and appropriately supervised,” said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, MPH. Yet only 1 in 4 parents in the Mott Poll said they have been asked questions about safety prior to a playdate. “Making sure children will be safe and well-supervised during a playdate often means asking the host parents about key safety issues. However, our poll suggests that many parents are not proactive when it comes to having these conversations.”

Handling concerns

Parents' top concerns about playdates include children being unsupervised, hearing inappropriate language, getting into harmful substances, and getting injured. This was highlighted in a New York Times Piece, How to manage play date anxiety. Reporter Christina Caron noted that relinquishing the supervision of their child to another parent, especially one that might be unfamiliar, can understandably be a cause for concern for many parents, particularly in regards to safety. In some situations, Clark suggested parents may need to step back and consider, “’How much of this is about my anxiety as opposed to the actual situation out there?’” Clark notes that too much parental anxiety over playdates might cause their children to miss out on important new experiences: “If you never allow them to have that growth opportunity, they don’t get any practice figuring that side of the world out.”

Tips for parents

So what can parents do to calm any fears or anxieties they may have over their young children attending a playdate? U-M Mott pediatrician Jill Noble, M.D. offers suggestions in a Michigan Health Blog post, 7 questions all parents should ask before a playdate. Dr. Noble advises that parents try to meet beforehand to go over any questions or concerns. Dr. Noble’s checklist of includes questions on supervision, activities, guns, and pets, topics parents in the Mott Poll said they would definitely ask about prior to a playdate. But Dr. Noble adds that the most important question should be posed to the children: what would you do if you felt unsafe? “One of the most critical steps to take before a playdate is to talk to your child,” Dr. Noble says. “We should be teaching our kids what to do in these types of situations anytime anywhere.”