Family, Kids & Relationships

Could You Have Play Date Anxiety? Here’s How To Deal

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There’s no shortage of things to worry about once you have kids. From sleep habits to nutrition requirements, the early years of parenting are full of concerns that we’re making the right decisions to protect and nurture our kids.

A new study shows that, for many of us, playdates loom large on the list of parenting worries. That’s especially true once it becomes more common to drop kids off at playdates rather than stick around, usually around the time children start kindergarten.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a National Poll on Children’s Health asking parents of children ages 4 through 9 years how they handle playdate invitations. Study administrators found that only “22% of parents would let their child have the playdate without them present, while 43% would stay with their child; 22% would say no to the playdate invitation, and 12% were unsure.”

The reasons for parents’ hesitation varied, but hinge on anxiety around the unknown.

Some of the things that influence a parent’s decision about playdates were the child being shy around strangers, safety issues, being afraid of pets, or having a food allergy or health condition. Many concerns seems to stem from fears of the unknown — if you don’t know the friend’s parents or household rules well, how can you be sure your child will be safe and well-supervised? 

In an effort to find out what the playdate environment would be like, 84 percent of parents said they would want to meet the parents before the playdate, while 45 percent said they would ask other friends or neighbors about them and 44 percent said they would check them out on social media. Nearly half of parents reported that they’d turned down invitations because they weren’t comfortable leaving their child with the other parent.

Many parents don’t address safety concerns—despite how universal they are.

The results of this survey don’t seem surprising. In today’s world we hear so many stories of children being taken advantage of, it’s easy for parents to become hypervigilant about leaving their children in the hands of people they don’t know. Despite these common concerns, however, only one in four parents said they’d been asked about safety issues before hosting a playdate. 

“In some cases,” researchers explain, “parents may assume that the host family shares their approach to supervision and safety, and thus questions are not warranted. Other parents may feel embarrassed about bringing up safety issues, not realizing that these types of concerns are shared broadly. Some parents avoid questions about playdate safety out of concern that the host parents may be offended.” However, the poll revealed that the vast majority of parents wouldn’t be offended if another parent asked about playdate safety. It’s far better to find a comfortable way to ask, such as having a conversation over the phone or by admitting to perhaps being overly cautious, rather than to avoid this kind of socialization altogether.

Playdates are important for development—here’s how to make them happen safely.

Since playdates are a great way for kids to gain independence and learn new social skills (while their parents get a little break), it’s important to give them a try. Here are some questions pediatrician Jill Noble M.D. of Mott’s Children’s Hospital recommends parents ask when scoping out playdate potential:

  • Can we meet ahead of time?
  • Who will be watching the kids?
  • What will the kids be doing? 
  • Do you have guns in the house?
  • Do you have animals in the home?
  • Are you aware of food allergies?

And the most important question should be directed at our children:

  • What would you do if you felt unsafe?

As important as it is to ask the right questions, it’s just as important to teach our children what to do in an unsafe situation. Preparing our children and ourselves can help us say yes to playdates and no to our growing anxiety.

Jessica Watson is a freelance writer, author and the blogger behind Four Plus an Angel. Mom to five kids, four in her arms and one in her heart, she tries hard to enjoy them every moment but sometimes dreams of a week alone with a pile of her favorite books. "Four Plus an Angel" -