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Playdate Etiquette

By Jacqueline Mroz

Whenever Erika Leavitt catches her daughters misbehaving or forgetting to say please, she reminds them -- again and again and again. “I don’t give them things unless they say please first,” says the Basalt, Colo., mother of two.

That’s exactly what parents need to do to teach their children social skills, according to Lisa Finan a mother of two in Montclair, N.J. and the owner of Courteous Child, which offers social skills classes to children. “Kids need to be constantly reminded to say please, thank you, and may I,” says Finan.

One of the best times for children to practice good manners is during playdates, when they can see the consequences of their behavior -- good and bad -- firsthand. They learn that politeness is about showing respect for others, and that means all others, not just adults. And if they are held to the same standards of behavior with their friends as they are with their families, they learn that being polite is something we do everywhere, all the time. The only hitch is that parents have to be there to keep reminding them.

 “Parents have to buy into teaching their kids good behavior; it’s not something you can tick off a list,” says Finan. “It has to be a lifestyle.”

Model politeness to your child
A good way to start is by being a role model. “When I’m out with my kids and I see other moms I know with their children, I extend my hand and shake their hands. Then I introduce my children to them; that teaches my kids to introduce themselves when they meet people,” says Finan.

The same holds true when children have a friend come over. As a parent, you should welcome young visitors the same way you would an adult. Let your child see you say hello and shake hands with the parent. Invite your guests into your home, paying special attention to the visiting child: “We’re so happy you could come over. Would you like to see our playroom?” By age 4 or 5, see if your child wants to make the offer himself: “Would you like to invite your friend to see the playroom?”

Teaching children good social skills shows them how to get through difficult situations, and, eventually, how to navigate the world, according to Finan. This can be helpful when your child goes on a playdate at someone else’s home, where he may have to learn how to follow different rules. “People we’ve had playdates with have been pretty good about telling my kids, you can’t do that, or please share,” says Leavitt. “I really don’t mind if other parents do that. In fact, I think sometimes my kids will listen more to other parents.”

When other people’s kids are rude
The issue of kids behaving badly can be especially perilous when you’re dealing with other children misbehaving at your house. That, says Finan, is when it’s important to set ground rules. And that can be helpful for kids because it lets them know what kind of behavior is expected of them at your home.

When kids come to her house for playdates, Finan first tells them her expectations: no running around the house, play happens only in the family room or outside, and eating should only be done at the kitchen table. She also makes sure her children’s friends help to clean up before they leave -- or they are not invited back. And it usually works, she says.

Of course, it’s not easy to correct other children’s behavior, or remind them to say please and thank you. But Finan says it’s important for everyone to teach children the right way to behave: “When we were kids, our neighbors didn’t have any problem reminding us to say please and thank you. When people talk about, ‘It takes a village,’ this is what it’s about. If we all don’t do it, who will? No one was meant to raise children alone.”

Jacqueline Mroz is a freelance journalist who has worked as an editor and children's book columnist for The Bergen Record and written for Parents magazine.

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