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  • Lizzie Charbonneau

Playdate Safety: Questions to Ask Before Sending Your Child

Updated: Jan 23



If you want a quick summary, check out the TL;DR at the bottom.


Playdates are an amazing opportunity for children to learn about other families and develop their independence.


However, as a parent of a young child, you might be anxious about sending your kid to a playdate without you. I known I am, which is why I researched and wrote this blog post: I wanted to get a better handle on how to conduct safety conversations with other parents, what questions I needed to ask them, and how to prepare my kid.


So, if you're like me and feeling some anxiety about solo-playdates, read on.

By the end of this blog post, you'll have the tools you need to help your child stay safe.


We'll cover:




5 reasons why preparing for playdates is important

TL;DR


If you follow me on Instagram or are signed up for my newsletter, you likely know these stats, but they’re worth repeating:

  1. Over 90% of CSA is perpetrated by someone a child or their family knows. CSA can still occur even if you know, like, and trust the other parent. Having open conversations about body safety reduces the likelihood of CSA.

  2. An estimated 1 in 10 children experiences CSA. CSA is common, and you should take active measures to protect your child.

  3. 40% of CSA is perpetrated by an older or more powerful child. You should know who will be around while your kid is at the playdate, particularly older kids, and set expectations around supervision.

  4. 80% of CSA occurs in one-on-one situations. Establish open-door play and bathroom privacy policies.

  5. 3.5 million kids are treated each year in emergency departments for common household accidents. Review common hazards and mitigation strategies to avoid serious injury.



But even if you know you should have these conversations, they can still feel incredibly uncomfortable. Here are some ideas to help you…


Manage the awkward

TL;DR


You might be avoiding these conversations because they feel too awkward. Well, you’re not alone. A survey by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shows that more parents are declining playdates than having safety conversations ahead of time.


But! That same survey showed that most parents wouldn’t be offended if someone asked about safety.


So, how do you push through the awkwardness?


Here are a few things you can do to help you feel more comfortable:

  • Think about the talk as a conversation rather than an interrogation. You’re not quizzing the other parents. You’re establishing shared expectations and boundaries.

  • Prepare in advance. Write down your questions and topics and develop a few conversation starters. Here are some ideas -

  • “Hey! This is Kiddo’s first playdate without a parent, so I’m feeling a bit anxious. I wanted to talk to you about a few safety things.”

  • “Hi! Kiddo is so excited about hanging out with your kid! Before her playdates, I always review a few safety items to ensure we’re all on the same page. Do you have a few minutes?”

  • “Hi! Before I drop Kiddo off, let’s talk about safety. When is a good time?”

  • Stick to safety. If you’re worried about coming off as bossy or judgmental, only discuss safety issues and stay away from preferences. For example, talk about your kid’s food allergies but not about how many cookies they’re allowed to eat.

  • Acknowledge the awkward. If this kind of conversation makes you achingly uncomfortable, let the other person know. You may even find some common ground with your shared discomfort.

  • Remember, they’re not judging you nearly as much as you’re judging yourself. And if they are judging you, oh well. You’re taking care of your kid the best way you know how.


You’ve got this!



But before you jump into the conversation, make sure you…


Understand your playdate expectations and boundaries

TL;DR


Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are your expectations for supervision? Who are you ok with supervising the playdate? Only the other kid’s parents, or would you be ok with a grandparent, older sibling, or someone else? Where do you expect the caretaker to be? Within eyesight? Within earshot?

  • How do you feel about visitors while your child is at the playdate? Do you need to know in advance? Would you be ok with an older sibling having a friend over? With a grandparent, aunt, or uncle coming by? What are your expectations around supervision while those visitors are around?

  • What are your expectations around water play if there’s a pool or other water feature? What barriers should be around the pool (or water feature)? Are you ok with your kid swimming? Who do you want to be around while they’re swimming? What level of supervision do you want when your kid is around water?

  • Do you have concerns about animals in the home? Is your kid comfortable around dogs or cats? Do they have allergies? Do you want your kid to be separated from the pet (e.g., have the pet put outside during the playdate)?

  • What are your boundaries around guns in the home? Are you ok with your kid playing at someone’s house if there’s a gun in the home? How must the gun be stored for you to be comfortable with your kid in the house?

  • What are your thoughts on internet use or other screen time? Where would you want screen time to happen (e.g., in a public space)? Would you expect an adult to be nearby? What content levels are you ok with for TV shows, movies, or video games?

  • Are you ok with your kid leaving the property to go to a park, shop, or other location? If so, what kinds of places are ok? What kind of transportation is ok? What level of supervision do you expect during the outing?

  • What body safety policies do you want to ensure are followed during the playdate? Examples include an open-door play policy, no secrets, “no” means “no,” “stop” means “stop,” clothes on at all times, and privacy when using the bathroom.



You know your boundaries and feel ready to face your discomfort with having the conversation. Now, you should…


Get to know the other kid’s parents


Getting to know the other kid’s parents does a few things:

  • you’ll be more comfortable talking to them about safety expectations

  • you’ll have an idea of what they’re parenting style is

  • you’ll be able to establish a gut feeling about whether or not you’d be comfortable with them watching your kid

  • if you see their home, you’ll get an idea of what physical hazards are present, like pools, pets, and trampolines

If you have social anxiety like me, getting to know the other parents may feel daunting. But remember, they’re in the same boat and probably want to get to know you, too (and if they want to have your kid over and are reluctant to meet you, that’s a red flag).


Here are a few ways to get to know the other kid’s parents:

  • Invite the entire family over for lunch or dinner

  • Have a playdate with everyone at a park

  • If they invite your kid over, let them know you’d love to get to know them and invite yourself over as well




After meeting the other kid’s parents, you’re finally ready to…


Have a conversation about playdate safety

TL;DR


Below is a list of topics to cover.


For each topic, I've listed goals–what you want to get out of the conversation–and boundaries–what you'd be ok with. Personalize these for yourself! Every parent has different comfort levels; none are "right" or "wrong."


I've also included example conversation snippets. Remember, these are just examples. Your approach will vary based on your and the other parent's boundaries and personalities.


Here are a few tips before we dive in:

  • State your expectations rather than asking what the other parent would do and then telling them what you want them to do instead. The latter feels judgmental.

  • Stick to safety rather than personal preferences.

  • Skip topics where you can: talk about pools only if they have one, etc.




Here are the topics!

Supervision

Goals: Know who will be "on-point" to supervise; understand the level of supervision; know who will be around.

Boundaries: I have met and am comfortable with whoever is supervising; the kids will be in earshot of them the whole time; I'll be informed if anyone comes over.

Example: Me: "So, will you and your partner supervise the kids?" Them: "Yeah, just us." Me: "Great! And it sounds like it will just be you two, your older kid, and our kids, is that right?" Them: "Yep. I mean, people do come over occasionally, like our neighbor's kids or my parents. But yeah." Me: "Oh, ok. Would you mind sending me a text if someone else comes by? I'm just a lot more comfortable knowing who's around." Them: "Sure! No problem." Me: "And I just want to double-check that you or your partner will always be within earshot of the kids." Them: "Hmm… Well, sometimes we have the kids play in the backyard while we're in the house. Is that ok?" Me: "If you don't mind, I'd prefer you guys to always be within earshot." Them: "Sure, we can do that."

Allergies

Water safety

Trampoline (or similar)

Guns

Screen time

Pets

Body Safety

Leaving the home

Emergency Contact Information


Having the conversation when you host


If you’re hosting a kid for a playdate, you can have a similar conversation with the other parent, so they know what to expect. They likely want to have this same conversation but may be too uncomfortable.


Let the other parent know:

  • Who will supervise, and who will be over

  • If your family has allergies and ask if their kid has any

  • If you have a pool, trampoline, or gun and what safety measures do you have for them

  • If there will be any screen time and what would it be

  • If you have any pets and what their temperaments are

  • What body safety rules you’ll be following

  • If you plan to leave the house and where you’d go

And ask for at least two points of contact in case of any issues.





But what if you’ve had the conversation and ultimately decided that you’re uncomfortable with this particular playdate?


Declining a playdate

TL;DR


You’ve gone through the entire process and feel like something isn’t right.


One of the critical things body safety experts drill into parents is to trust their gut. If it doesn’t seem right, don’t send your kid.


Rejecting a playdate is hard. You don’t want to disappoint your kid, and you don’t want to offend the other parent.

But trust your gut!


Here are a few ways to decline to send your kid to a playdate without you:

  • Redirect the playdate to a park

  • Offer to host the playdate

  • Attend the playdate with your kid

  • Or say “no.”

Your kid’s safety comes first.





So now you’ve figured out your boundaries, talked to the other parents, and have decided to send your kid. There’s one more thing you should do…


Review your family’s safety rules with your kid

TL;DR


Note: This should not be the first time you have talked with your kid about your family safety rules. Hopefully, you’ve had small, repeated conversations about these safety rules over time. If you haven’t, try introducing these concepts at least a week before the playdate without associating them with the playdate. Then, do a quick review with them before they go to their friend’s home.





Here are some topics to review with your kid:


Safety Word:

  • If you feel uncomfortable or scared and want us to pick you up without letting other people know, call or text us and use our safety word. We’ll come and get you.

Body safety:

  • You are the boss of your body.

  • Your clothes stay on.

  • You use the bathroom in private and give others privacy while they’re in the bathroom.

  • No means no, and stop means stop. If these aren’t being respected by another kid, talk to an adult who is there. If these aren’t being respected by an adult, use our safety word, and I’ll come to pick you up.

  • No adult should ask you to keep a secret. If they do, you can say, “we don’t keep secrets in our family.” Then, tell me. You will not get in trouble.

Gun safety:

  • If you see a gun, stop what you’re doing, don’t touch the gun, leave, and tell an adult. Then call me. You can use our safety word.

Pill safety:

  • Never take a pill that we (your parents) didn’t give to you.

  • If someone offers you a pill, say no. You can call us and use your safety word.

Explicit content:

  • If you see pictures that make you feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused–especially if they include naked people–look away and walk away. Then let me know. You can call or text using our safety word. You will not get in trouble.*


Finally, ask them what they would do if they felt unsafe.



And remember…


Peer pressure is real. It’s possible that your kid won’t follow these safety rules. It’s essential that you keep the door open for conversations–that your kid knows that you’ll love them regardless of their choices and that they can always talk to you, even if it’s days, weeks, or months after something happened.


The follow-up conversation

TL;DR


The playdate is over, and it’s time to pick your kid up!


It’s tempting to immediately ask the other parent and your kid how everything went.

But pause.


Tanya GJ Prince wrote an excellent article on what questions to ask after a playdate and when to ask them. If you ask your kid if they had a good time in front of the other parent, the kid may feel pressured to say yes. Then, later, they may not feel like they can say something different because they’ll have to explain their “lie.”


Instead, wait until after you’ve left to ask your kid how things went.


Tanya suggests you ask these questions:

  • Did you enjoy yourself?

  • How did you spend your time?

  • What was your favorite part?

  • What was your least favorite part?

  • Did you feel safe?

  • Was there anything else that you wanted to share?

Tanya also recommends reminding your kid that they can add details or changes to what they’ve told you whenever they’d like.



“But,” you might be thinking, “my kid doesn’t tell me anything!”

Mine either.


If your kid tends to respond with “I don’t know”s or “I don’t want to talk about it”s for these types of questions, here are a few ideas:

  • Have the conversation in the car, on a walk, or other situation where you’re side-by-side rather than facing each other.

  • If your kid is very young, use a page of emotion faces and ask your kid to point to how they felt during the playdate.

  • Have a conversation while you’re playing together or drawing together.




TL;DR


5 reasons why preparing for playdates is important

There is significant evidence to demonstrate that body safety and physical safety concerns with playdates are valid.


Manage the awkward

Techniques to manage awkward conversations include:

  • Make it a conversation not an interrogation

  • Prepare in advance

  • Stick to safety topics and stay away from personal preferences

  • Acknowledge the awkward

Remember, they’re not judging you nearly as much as you’re judging yourself.


Understand your playdate expectations and boundaries / Have a conversation about playdate safety

Ahead of a playdate conversation, ask yourself what your boundaries are for each of the following topics. When you're ready to have the conversation, understand your goals and boundaries for each topic to help guide the conversation. Topics include:

  • Supervision

  • Visitors

  • Allergies (your family's and theirs)

  • Pool or other large water features

  • Pets

  • Guns

  • Body safety

  • Internet use and other screen time

  • Leaving the home

Declining a playdate

Trust your gut - if you're not comfortable, don't send your kid on the playdate alone. Some ideas for handling this include:

  • Redirect the playdate to a park

  • Offer to host the playdate

  • Attend the playdate with your kid

  • Or say “no.”

Review your family’s safety rules with your kid

Here are some topics to review with your kid:

  • Your family safety word and when to use it.

  • Your family's body safety rules and what to do if someone breaks them.

  • What to do if they see a gun.

  • What to do if they see or are offered pills.

  • What to do if they see explicit content.

The follow-up conversation

When you and your kid are alone after a playdate, ask them the following questions:

  • Did you enjoy yourself?

  • How did you spend your time?

  • What was your favorite part?

  • What was your least favorite part?

  • Did you feel safe?

  • Was there anything else that you wanted to share?



I want to hear from you!

Let me know if you’ve had playdate safety conversations with other parents and how they went!

Let me know if you have other suggestions for preparing for a safe playdate!


References


* Explicit content is tricky to describe. Nudity isn't bad, and pictures of naked people is not the same as porn. A big factor in determining what is "explicit content" is how the content makes us feel. I found the post Art vs. Porn by Kristen A. Jenson, the author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures, helpful here.

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