Playdate Nightmares

If you understand “the toddler’s law of property,” you will be able to see when fights are imminent and can avoid some unpleasant experiences in a playroom or on a playdate. The writer of the toddler’s property law clearly captured the mind-set of a young child.

Children, however, need to learn when they are young the importance of respecting others, taking turns, sharing, and working together as a team. Whether it’s at the Lego table or in the plastic tunnel, children get opportunities to learn fundamental skills that will benefit them later in life. It’s almost impossible to avoid conflict among children but, as a caregiver, you must do everything possible to reiterate important values such as no hitting, no biting, no scratching—simple, keep-your-hands-to-yourself rules—when kids play.

Once those rules are broken, there should be a set of consequences that will deter the kids from that type of behavior. Those deterrents should have the support of the parents and must be age-appropriate and articulated well enough that the kids understand them.

Most playdates are either hosted at a child’s house or in a playroom or other public space, like a park, playground, or enrichment center. Perceptions of playdates differ from one parent to another. There are parents who simply want their children to socialize and have fun with their peers, while other parents want total nanny involvement in whatever activity the child does while on a playdate. Regardless of parent expectations, a playdate is a chance for a caregiver to monitor the children’s social development, recognize whether there are social impediments that may need addressing, and give children the time and space to fully explore their independence. This, of course, is based on the age of the child.

The nanny’s involvement should not be to the point that children aren’t given the chance to perform simple tasks on their own. You are helping to nurture strong, independent, and confident children, not leeches that cling to you constantly. That won’t help them when they are off on their own in a class or in school. It’s a question of understanding the perfect balance of when you should engage a child and be part of an activity and when the child is allowed to play independently.


Another nanny works with children whose parents are close friends with the family and kids you work with. The kids are about the same ages as the kids you work with—three and one-half and two and one-half years old. They often call for playdates, but you have one problem: every time they come over, the playdate is an absolute nightmare. There are fights, bites, broken toys, and frequent temper tantrums, but all the other nanny ever does is threaten to punish the kids with a timeout or an abrupt end of the playdate, but she never follows through.

The children constantly snack and are so out of control that, at the end of the playdate, all the kids are miserable, and her kids are on a sugar high. What’s even more irritating is the nanny constantly excuses the way the kids act out, blaming their behavior on her employers’ parenting style. How do you address this while protecting the kids’ friendship and without hurting the nanny’s feelings?

You deal with this situation with honesty and diplomacy. First, you need to address the situation with your employers, so they are aware of the problem. Then you need to speak with the other nanny to help come up with ways that may make the playdate experience more enjoyable for all. You can make a snack rule that will cut down on the kids’ sugary snacks, which are undoubtedly culprits in the unpleasant behavior and meltdowns.

Whether it’s the employers’ parenting style or not, the kids need boundaries, and rules must be enforced at all times. Once those rules are broken, there should always be consequences, and they must be dealt with immediately. If all fails, it is then left up to your employers to decide whether to approach their friends about their kids’ behavior in order to find a solution to the playdate nightmare.

Have a fun filled playdate!

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