How much should you supervise playdates?

Another day, another playdate, another late afternoon wrestling with the dilemma: how much do I need to supervise these little monsters? When it’s just my daughter and her older brother, I’m content to let them disappear for ages, knowing that the older one will keep the younger from practising flying out of upstairs window, and the little one will tell on the older one taking scissors to the soft toys. But when it’s not your own children, the consent forms at hospital can be a bit tricky.

A big problem is that tiresome measuring-up-against-other-mothers kind of thing. You know when your child goes to their house, the children play outside in the sprawling garden while mum (it’s usually mum) and possibly the au pair/nanny/resident childcare slave as well oversee the action from the pristine open-plan kitchen. Your child comes back knowing new tricks or having learned how to bake bread, whereas theirs return with a few tips for effective arson.

My husband’s no help, as his attitude veers more toward the “no haemorrhage, no foul” school. And I hate to haunt the children’s social interactions like some Poindexter at the prom. They should explore free play, negotiate their own conflicts. Plus, six-year-olds’ game can be boring.

So I’m trying to explore the parameters of playdate supervision. Within earshot but out of sight is OK. What about downstairs when they’re upstairs? What about in my upstairs office while they’re in the garden? Do these rules hold when they want to try some facepainting or holding the pet gerbils?

So far the only problem we’ve had was the mysterious disappearance of a bag of sweeties. Is that something I can tolerate in exchange for being able to catch up on email and make some phone calls? Absolutely. (Just don’t tell their mothers.)

Image: Boaz Yiftach /


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  1. Susan
    September 15, 2010 / 4:45 pm

    I don’t supervise much at all. As long as the kids are on the property somewhere, I’m OK. I figure once they are 6 years old, they are old enough to, 1. come to me for help if needed, 2. tattle on each other if something really diabolical is going on.

  2. September 15, 2010 / 4:52 pm

    HA. I love that you use the phrase “on the property”, like you are actually just acting as a custodian or stand-in security guard for the duration. I’m with you all the way.

  3. September 15, 2010 / 6:09 pm

    I just let them play. It’s great that they go upstairs and have fun. If they need you, they’ll let you know!

  4. September 15, 2010 / 6:53 pm

    I usually make sure I’m at least on the same floor but we’re talking about 7 year old boys. When it goes quiet, I know they’re hatching a plan.
    And, not to burst your bubble, but the times of most worry are when the 14 year old is in charge of him. He either completely ignores him or comes up with some death-defying form of amusement such as placing all the cushions on the (cement) basement floor and diving through the air onto them.

  5. Susan
    September 15, 2010 / 7:36 pm

    This actually assumes that the kids are capable of playing on their own. It’s funny. My kids have always been left to their own devices a lot, and can play for hours using their imagination and toys, but I’m finding that some of their friends cannot. They come and find me and say they’re bored, and ask me what they can do. Maybe these children actually have parents who play WITH them?? Or maybe their days have always just been very scheduled?

  6. September 16, 2010 / 12:53 pm

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who ascribes to a laissez-faire management policy. We know a few kids who always seem to need help playing, or don’t seem know what to do other than tear apart a room – and I don’t just mean get out toys and not put them away. They just want to throw things everywhere then hit each other.

  7. September 17, 2010 / 6:34 am

    Ah such a delight to find another parent who thinks of the playdate as a chance to do some email, rather than some play dough. I’ve gotten to the point that when a child (usually not my own) comes to me because they are “bored” on a play date I’m actually annoyed! (“What? You mean *I* have to do something?) I also listen more for silence than noise, as I’ve noticed the chemistry set put to ill use on more than one occasion when I’m not paying attention. But in general, and esp. once they are over 5, I’ve moved into the pure anarchy model of the play date.
    Delia Lloyd

  8. September 17, 2010 / 12:13 pm

    Less is more, unless they are little monsters.

  9. September 17, 2010 / 2:42 pm

    Yes, the little monsters (not the Lady Gaga fans but the type that will rip your sofa to shreds). They usually don’t get invited back chez nous.

  10. September 19, 2010 / 3:16 pm

    Supervise playdates? No, never. Not now my daughter is seven anyway. If a friend comes over (sans parent) I see it as a time for me to get a break. I’m not off down the high street of course but it’s a time when I can catch up on emails or even read a magazine. So it has to be a friend my daughter can play happily with without me interfering, in any part of the house (it’s average-sized so they are always in ear shot). I wouldn’t let them play in the garden unsupervised because it has access to the main road, so I try to encourage them to stay indoors, even in summer!! (That last part isn’t quite true.)

  11. September 20, 2010 / 10:07 am

    I think I may have to slightly revise my stance after a Friday playdate in which the children tore apart some tiki torches (don’t ask) to make kindling for a “fire”. At least I visited the garden before any matches were struck.

  12. November 2, 2010 / 9:30 am

    I don’t supervise much at all. As long as the kids are on the property somewhere, I’m OK. I figure once they are 6 years old, they are old enough to, 1. come to me for help if needed, 2. tattle on each other if something really diabolical is going on.

  13. April 28, 2016 / 7:26 pm

    I have a toddler and a baby, so the play is definitely supervised, and the other mum stays with her child. The dilemma I have is when do I step in when kids squabble. Do I just leave them to resolve it?

    • April 28, 2016 / 8:32 pm

      Oooh, good question! I used to be all “This is a teaching moment!” and try to resolve things for the kids. Now I try to hang back a bit more and see if they can work out the politics themselves.

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