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Proper Playdate Etiquette Protocol for Toddlers and their Moms

by Deborah Cruz

Are you a playdate pro or are you a new mom just dipping her toe in the playdate pond? Either way, learning all the rules and regulations for playdates as a new mom is about as easy as patting your head and rubbing your belly while reciting the lyrics to Baby Shark backwards. And almost as annoying. Makes me wonder what is proper playdate etiquette protocol for toddlers and their moms? What if my child doesn’t make friends? These are the things I used to stay up at nights worrying about when the girls were small but I’ve learned some things along the way and I think they could be helpful to you. If your children do have trouble getting along with other children, then you could consult with a doctor about childhood social disorder treatment to see if it’s right for your little ones.

I remember once having a wonderful playdate ( well, Bella and Gabs were having the playdate while I enjoyed my time hanging out with the kid’s mom, my “mom friend”)let’s just call it a family play date. If we’re being 100% honest, those playdates were as much for me as they were for the girls I loved having those women to talk to, share with and bond with over our mommy war stories. The struggle is real in the mommyhood.

But in those moments, I was still left wondering, what is the appropriate duration of a playdate for children ages 2 to 5-years-old? What the hell is proper playdate protocol? How do you let them know when it’s time to go home without offending anyone?

READ ALSO: Play Date Break Up

Seriously, I’ve been hosting playdates since 2006. In the beginning, they lasted anywhere from a half hour, that seemed like an eternity, to a cool 5 hours that never seemed like quite enough time together. I’ve attended playdates where I couldn’t stop checking my phone and biding my time until I  could leave. Other times, I could have stayed longer because the kids were having fun and the conversation and coffee were flowing. Do you know what I am talking about?  We’ve all been there.

Other times you find yourself, sitting there, watching the clock, thinking to yourself, can I leave now without looking like a giant a**hole (quietly wishing your head would explode like in Scanners)? It all really depends on the company and the activity. But really, there has to be some kind of etiquette to this; some sort of method to all the madness. If not, chaos would break out. Moms would be walking out mid-sentence once they start hearing something they didn’t like; others would become squatters and it shouldn’t be that hard. It’s like real dating.

We need rules; proper Playdate Etiquette Protocol for Toddlers and their Moms

I’m lucky, I’ve been doing this Mommy gig long enough to have a really great group of Mommies kids that we have playdates with. Most of our playdates were, seriously, 2-5 hours in duration (so awesome how well my girls slept on those nights). But other days, no matter how many crafts or jungle gyms you had, the date was just a dud.

Sometimes we’d hit the zoo, sometimes we’d watch a kids movie, sometimes we’d have coffee and the kids played dress up and put on shows, sometimes it was a combo and lunch. The adorable videos that I could post on InstaStories could give the cat videos a run for their money.

READ ALSO: Play Dates What Every New Mom Needs to Know

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the need to flee the scene of a playdate going to hell in a handbasket but I know they’re out there. My girls are now old enough, to host playdates without parental supervision but I won’t lie, sometimes I miss it. I don’t get to see my mom friends like I used to because now, everyone has extracurricular activities and more than one kid and no one has time for coffee and lingering conversation or wine and kids dressing up. Now, we have to find time to get together ourselves and it’s much harder than it sounds so cherish these toddler playdates. Here’s a little help.

Proper Playdate Etiquette Protocol for Toddlers and their Moms

  1. Parents should always stay with their child if they are preschooler age and under.
  2. For the first playdate with someone you haven’t had playdates with before, I recommend setting a time limit of 1 hour.
  3. After the initial playdate, if you like the mom and kid and everyone gets along, set a strict time i.e. 10 am-noon. The best guideline is 1.5-2 hours that doesn’t interfere with naptime.
  4. Parents should always pack snacks for their own children. As a playdate hostess, I’ve always provided appropriate snacks and drinks.
  5. Elementary school-aged children are a little different, ask the hosting parent if they want you to stay or go. Around fifth grade, you can safely assume that you will not be part of your child’s playdate.
  6. When kids are elementary school aged, you need to relinquish control a little bit. This starts with snacks. Let the parents know if your child has any food allergies and if they have any pet allergies since you won’t be there.
  7. Once they are in high school, you just need to provide your children with the upbringing and the trust to make good choices and a cellphone so that you can keep in touch. Duration of “playdates” can last from a few hours to a few days. When I was a teenager, my best friend spent the night at my house almost every day of the week.

These are just a few pointers for proper playdate etiquette for toddlers and their moms. What is your favorite pointer for hosting playdates?



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Aging Mommy 2010/03/04 - 10:13 am

There definitely needs to be a universally applicable protocol for play dates. Maybe we should produce one and submit it to Senate for review and nation wide implementation? I envisage a national debate on this one, with millions of moms responding. Two rules I would definitely include are 1) Don't bring sick kids to a play date and 2) If your child has to constantly eat snacks please bring something for your child to eat that does not leave a crumb trail to rival Hansel's in the Gingerbread House story and/or make such a sticky mess of my carpet, walls and upholstery that I need to bring in a cleaning company to repair the damage (note, chocolate fondant cupcakes are not a good treat to bring and feed your child on my cream carpet).

As for an exit strategy when you really need one, I would suggest checking your phone for messages, calling your voice mail regardless of whether or not you really have any messages then suddenly gasping in mock horror and telling everyone you have to leave as you totally forgot you had arranged for a plumber to call today and he is on his way to your house right now, so gotta go, so sorry! Then just fly.

Beba Romo 2011/01/26 - 9:08 pm

What the hell it’s a playdate? can kids just go and play with their friends like in the old days? why do you complicate things?

parenting ad absurdum 2010/03/04 - 12:09 pm

First – The Three Martini Playdate is my absolute favorite parenting book ever. Second – I find that most parents understand if we exit a playdate early-ish, especially if we use an excuse like "my four-year old won't poop anywhere but his own bathroom" – entirely true, by the way. Though the plumber strategy is good too :).


Busy Working Mama 2010/03/04 - 3:41 pm

I agree! I've had a mom bring over her 2 year old who HADN'T napped all day saying "hope this goes OK." It did not. I was thinking, how can I back out of this?

Jessica Warrick 2010/03/04 - 1:27 pm

I think that a play date should not last more than 2 hours that way the parents have time to clean up the house or area before dinner. I know i if had a play date at my house i would schedule a time frame such as play date at my house from 1-3. That way there is no confusion on the time period.

mommypants13 2010/03/04 - 7:54 pm

wow, thats a great thought, annabella isnt quite at that age yet but I'm glad I can read what other mamas think. following from mbc

Truthful Mommy 2010/03/04 - 10:27 pm

Great Ideas girls! I have gotten some great ideas for escape protocol!LOL I see you girls have put some thought into this, you all sound like experts! Thanks for the feedback and happy play dates!


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