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Family Forum: Vetting Play Dates

Ask the tough questions to ensure your child has a safe and supervised environment.

Family Forum: Vetting Play Dates

Until my daughters entered preschool, their play dates were always with the children of parents I knew well, and most of the time included me tagging along for a cup of tea and mommy time with the child’s mother.

However, once my girls entered kindergarten, their social worlds expanded to not only include children I didn’t know, but also their parents. These were families who for all I knew had unsupervised guns and swimming pools.

So whenever my daughters wanted a play date, I enthusiastically volunteered to host first so I could get to know the child—and the parent who came to pick up that child. Only if I was satisfied with those early introductions did I allow my daughters to go to the child’s house the next time.

But of course even those brief interactions were no guarantee that my daughters were going to be well supervised at the other child’s home. How did I know that power tools were safely locked away, or that if both parents worked, a responsible adult would be in charge, or that PG-13 movies weren’t readily available?

Yet I was reluctant to handle the social awkwardness of trying to determine if a play date was safe for my child without implying that the other parent was negligent. Until one day a mom asked me if I had any guns. She was straight-forward and said she simply wanted to be sure her daughter would be safe in my home. I was happy to reassure her all was well.

This interaction helped me to see that contrary to our instinct to be polite, it’s not ill-mannered to ask questions that yield answers about our child’s welfare. It’s always best to put your child’s safety first and go with your gut. You’ll hate yourself if you decide to let your child stay at someone’s house because you didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable and then something happened.

At the same time, it’s also worthwhile to think through how to ask the question so it doesn’t sound critical. You can say, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way,” or “I don’t mean to offend, but I have to ask what adult will be home when my son comes to play.”

If you add a disclaimer that takes direct blame off the parent, most will respond well. The other parent might be glad their child is associating with someone whose family is concerned because that means you’re likely to watch their child carefully when it’s your turn.

On the other hand, if a parent becomes belligerent or defensive, you may want to give a second thought to whether or not your child is safe there.  It doesn’t mean nixing your child’s friendship. Instead, meet at a neutral place like a playground or offer to host at your house.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to teach your child clearly about safety rules, as in, “You never play with power tools, guns or go in the pool unsupervised.”

And be careful how you respond if your child comes home with a disturbing story. If you overreact by getting angry or punishing him, you decrease the likelihood he’ll tell you in the future.  Instead, reiterate the rule, ask what he could have done differently, and then speak with the other parent.

Here are some events Long Island Parent magazine recommends for this week:

On Friday, April 29-May 1, the Kids Kloset Consignment Sale takes place at Center Island Sports Complex, 101 Union Ave., in Ronkonkoma. Admission to the sale is free (for the VIP pre-sale, a nominal $2 donation for a local charity is requested). The Kids Kloset Consignment Sale is Long Island's Premier Consignment Event featuring over 30,000 quality new and gently used items for kids. A "one-stop" shopping experience for everything kid-related. You’ll find everything from clothing to toys to baby equipment and everything in between. For more information, visit  www.thekidskloset.com

On Saturday, April 30, the National Association of Mothers’ Centers is hosting their annual fundraiser, Mile for Mothers Walk-a-Thon, to support the 35-year-old program that puts mom first, wherever her walk through motherhood takes her. The event is held on the Boardwalk at Riverside in Long Beach, from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Call 516-939-MOMS, Ext. 104; or visit   www.FirstGiving.com/NAMC. Long Island Parent magazine is one of the sponsors.

On Saturday, April 30-May 1, Arbor Day Family Festival takes place at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park at 1395 Planting Fields Rd., in Oyster Bay from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. It’s for all ages at a cost of only $15 per vehicle. Once you enter the park, all activities, a tree climb for kids, exhibits, bull rides and performances are free. Call 516-922-8678 or visit  www.plantingfields.org

Liza N. Burby is Publisher of  Long Island Parent magazine.

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