Playdate Must-Haves

When a playdate goes bad, make sure you have some of these in your arsenal.

We’ve all been there. Your school-age daughter invites her new friend for a playdate. Everything seems fine until you hear screams of “It’s my turn!” “Let go!” “I’m leaving!” Someone bursts out of a room in tears.

Or maybe the playdate never even gets off the ground, with your daughter’s new bestie refusing to play, or even speak.

Yes, moms, it’s a playdate gone bad, but don’t turn on the SpongeBob marathon and relegate them to the couch just yet. Turn things around instead with a few inexpensive, readily available, and totally fun things in your arsenal. Have some of these five on hand, should the unthinkable happen to you.

  1. Kid-Friendly Music. Put away the Laurie Berkner CDs, or your daughter may never speak to you again. When you’re talking about the 5-11 crowd, there’s nothing a little Taylor Swift/One Direction/Selena Gomez won’t fix. Send the sulking lasses into your daughter’s bedroom or playroom with the music and a suggestion to make up a dance and show it to you and the other kid’s mom at the end of the playdate. Or shut the lights and the shades and add some glow-in-the-dark bracelets, which you can get 10 for a dollar at some craft stores.

Friend too shy, or things disintegrated too much for such one-on-one cooperation? Ok. It’s time to take a deep breath and pull out the big guns:

  1. Betty Crocker Ultimate Fudge Premium Brownie Mix with Hershey’s. Really, any baking activity is good: It gets the kids working together, and they know the reward at the end of the tunnel. But I tell you now: Once you taste brownies made with this mix, your lives will never be the same again. One time I brought the finished product to a school event, and kids were literally licking the pan. Fights nearly broke out to get the last one. They’re that good. Once she gets a taste of these babies, your kid’s friend will be begging to come back to your house. Daily.

If, despite your best efforts to keep your kitchen stocked with this mix (and the right size pan), you find yourself without, have the kids bake anything, but try to make it out of the ordinary. For example, have the girls bake one ginormous cookie instead of 24 traditional ones.

  1. Craft Supplies. You could have kits on hand--like spin art or make-your-own snow globe--but they tend to be expensive and don’t last long (once you make the two snow globes in the package, that’s it). Plus, they require a lot of adult help, often with the kids just sitting there while you do the dirty work. Instead, have on hand cheap supplies like popsicle sticks, googly eyes, pom-poms, glitter glue (trust me: you can never have enough glitter glue), pipe cleaners, foam stickers with peel-off backs, cotton balls, and paper plates to glue them onto. Another hot item? Colored or patterned duct tape, which kids can use to decorate an empty tissue box, or a paper towel roll (which makes for an excellent telescope for spying on the neighbors!).
  1. Shrinky Dinks. Yes, they still make them. And most kids (deprived souls!) have never seen them. Today’s Shrinky Dinks come with accessories that let you turn them into key chains, barrettes, magnets, etc. They’re totally easy, take up just the right amount of time, and come with enough supplies to last through many playdates.
  1. Mad Libs. Again, they’re cheap, last through several playdates, and most kids have never done them before. You might have to remind little ones that a verb is something you do, a noun is a person, place, or thing, and an adverb usually ends in “ly,” but most kids catch on quickly. And believe me, nothing turns a playdate around like toilet talk (just wait and see how many versions of “poop” they can fit into one Mad Lib).

Stay tuned for a future post with expert advice on whether and how you should correct bad behavior (the friend’s or your kid’s) at a playdate!

Additional Tips

  • Check with parents about allergies and other food rules beforehand. The above mix contains wheat, milk, and soy ingredients, but no nuts. Need something more allergy-friendly? Try Cherrybrook Kitchen or Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free brands.
  • Stay away from zero-sum games. If the playdate is already faltering, pulling out Sorry and having one kid knock out the other’s pawn while cooing, “Sooooorrrryyy!” is not going to improve matters.
  • All these things will probably work for a boy playdate, but I haven’t tried them with my son and his friends yet. Truth be told, I’ve found boy playdates to be much easier. I just send them into a room and pretend I don’t hear anything crashing to the ground.

More by NJ Family's Real Moms of NJ Blogger, Renee Sagiv Riebling:

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Essex County Real Mom Anna Sandler lives happily ever after with her Jersey-raised husband and three NYC-born children in the land of jug handles and disco fries. She loves baking and crafting with her kids, even if everything they make doesn't turns out Pinterest-perfect. Anna has never met a holiday she doesn't want to celebrate, and enjoys sharing ideas for everyday fun (indoor beach party, anyone?), as well as how to commemorate bigger moments from birthdays to first days of school.

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