3 Tips for Hosting Successful Playdates

3 Tips for Hosting Successful Playdates

Playdates are a wonderful way for children to learn social skills and develop meaningful friendships. Over the years I have found a few simple things that we can do as parents to ensure that our children have positive experiences.

1. Start with a conversation…

It really helps to have a conversation with your child before the playdate. I always start out by explaining to the girls that they are the hosts, which means that they will need to be flexible and listen to what their guest(s) would prefer to do while they are visiting our home. I also remind them that when guests come to our house to play, they need to be willing and able to graciously share their things.

It is helpful to ask your child to come up with a list of activities or games that they would like to share with their guest. Some children come over and instantly engage in play, while others may need to hear a number of ideas before they become intrigued. If your child has generated a list of possible play scenarios beforehand, they will be ready to deal with this situation. The goal is to give your child experience in making suggestions and engaging his or her friends independently.

This is also a good time to place your own boundaries with your child. If there are any activities that you would like to make off limits, it helps to let your child know beforehand.

You can never have this conversation too many times! Even now, after having had playdates for many years, I still find it helpful to work through these things with the girls ahead of time.

2. Feed them well…

3 Tips for Hosting Successful Playdates

I can’t stress how important good food is to a great playdate! The first thing that I do after everyone has said their hello’s (and I have double-checked to make sure that there are no allergies), is make a big healthy snack. I like to include a fruit, a vegetable with dip, and a healthy-salty-crunchy option (fresh popcorn is a favorite). Limiting sugary foods increases the odds that everyone’s moods will remain relatively balanced and upbeat. Nothing sets the stage better than satiated children, full of healthy food, with lots of engaging options for play.

I have also found that children are more willing to try new foods in new environments and have been pleasantly surprised when children who “won’t eat any vegetables” at home, gobble down a whole plate of carrots and cucumbers!

3. Have a project planned (but try not to use it)…

3 Tips for Hosting Successful Playdates

It is always helpful to have a fun project in the back of your mind that you can pull out if the need arises. I usually don’t mention that I have planned something and like to wait and see how the playdate scenario progresses. In an ideal world, your child has been able to make interesting suggestions and everyone is happily engaged. If this is the case, I try not to interrupt the flow, preferring that they continue to make their own choices on how they spend their time together.

Yet, other times there may be a bit of a lull. When you notice that your child and his or her guest are seeming a bit directionless, it is a good time to bring out the project. I have found that simply changing things up a bit and focusing their attention on a specific activity, is all it takes to pick things back up again. The less parent-lead the project is the better. Once they are engaged I try to step out and let their conversation flow. Often they will move on to something else without any need for me to step in and direct things.

The more experiences that children have in self-directed playtime with peers, the more confident and able they will become at making good decisions and genuinely engaging with the friends in their lives.



With over 10 years of EDU experience and a growing family, Mariah started Playful Learning in 2008 as a resource for parents and teachers. In 2010 Playful Learning received the Parent’s Choice Gold Medal, and in August of 2011, Shambhala Publications released her first book, Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder. Mariah has an M.S. Ed in Elementary Education and was that girl sitting in the back of class thinking about what she would do differently if she was the teacher. Now she is happily working with a team of gifted educators to bring life-changing lessons to children, families, and schools around the world. In her free time she can be found taking long walks, enjoying a cup of tea, or swimming in the Atlantic with her husband and two daughters.



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  1. I enjoyed this post. First I was skepitcal to read it. I thought why do parents feel they need to control everything? A playdate is to PLAY? But I am glad I read it! I like the before-hand conversation. Help make good little host/hostesses! I also agree with parents stepping out for the most part. Some guidance is needed, but it is good for the kids to work on things alone.

  2. This post was very informative! I will try and implement some of the ideas, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on playdates for younger kids. My son is 2 1/2 and will not share. Its very embarassing. He will scream very loudly in the other child’s face if they play with his toy at our house. If we are out in public and another child tries to play with what he is playing, then he loses it as well. I did just had a baby 3 months ago, but this has got to stop. I feel like I cant take him anywhere or get together with any other moms because of his behavior! Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! I used to love our playdates. 🙁

    1. Hi Jennifer – As parents we have all had those moments—you are not alone! Sharing is a skill that comes with practice. The more you can talk about and experiment with sharing during “neutral” moments at home, the more children are able to transfer their newly developing skill to real world experiences (with other children). I love this post that Amanda Morgan wrote for Simple Kids. I did many of suggestions she makes with my own daughters and met with great success. http://simplekids.net/the-art-of-sharing-2/

      1. Thank you so much for responding to my comment! I will be taking your advice and also the suggestions in the article! I really appreciate it and hope it starts to work pretty quickly! 🙂

  3. Very kind and gracious ideas. One thing I also ask my children before a play date is whether or not there are any toys or special items in their room that they would prefer to be put away for the day. We then put the special toy(s) or item away(s) in our bedroom (the parents’). Like adults, children will often have something that is just too special to make available to everyone. I also like that giving the children this opportunity for input takes into account their feelings about personal space and belongings and shows them that their input and feelings are respected and valued.

    1. Thank you for thoughtful comment… I think your suggestion is a great way to set the stage for sharing, while honoring their feelings and special items.

  4. Thank you do much for thus post!! Such great ideas and some of the ideas I do already but learned some new. I guess it’s good to see other parents have conversations before hand too!:)

  5. These are wonderful ideas! And it is so true that it can be hard for parents to let go and allow child-led activities. We see it all the time when we host art projects at neighborhood festivals. Sometimes we try to distract them so the kids have time to think about their project and decide what to do next 🙂 Thanks for reassuring parents that it’s okay to take a step back and let their kids take charge of their own fun (while providing back-ups and planning ahead for success).

    1. Hi Jessica – It is so nice to “see” you :-). Yes it is all about remembering to take that step back. I have found that when I do that, children exceed my expectations with their own creative input!

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