As we enter what feels like day 1,000 of living in a pandemic, life is slowly starting to move towards a masked, social-distancing normal. With the UAE summer holiday in full swing and our children at home - often without the vacation or summer camp that might have been planned - the demand for playdates to entertain and socialise our children is on the rise. As are stress levels for many parents, as we now have to navigate whether or not we should host a playdate or accept an invitation to one during a pandemic. How do we do it? Is there a proper way of doing it?
This aspect of parenting life - which was previously so banal and innocuous in pre-COVID times - now carries quite a bit of uncertainty. As a parent and etiquette coach, I have personally and professionally dealt with the ‘to playdate or not to playdate’ question. Here are my pandemic playdate etiquette tips for every situation.
You want to bring up the topic of a play date with the parents of your child’s friend but don’t want to be inappropriate. Is there a ways to do it without it feeling awkward?
Being social in this new normal is bound to be awkward and for so many reasons. Life as we are living it is uncharted and we have nothing to refer to for guidelines or direction. The nature of the disease itself isn’t helping, it seems just as enigmatic as the climate it has created. As parents we are naturally protective of our children, walking that fine line between being overbearing and responsible. All of that considered, it’s understandable if we feel we are walking that same line as we broach the playdate subject.
In my experience this conversation is uncomfortable because of the uncertainty of the times. Parents are just not sure how other parents are feeling about having playdates, how they should ask to have a playdate, and how to bring up the subject of social distancing. We don’t want to judge or be judged - neither is a great nor welcome feeling.
Your child is desperate to socialize and you want to ask their friend for a socially distanced play date, but you aren’t sure of their situation. How do you broach the topic?
My husband and I have been conservative with regards to social gathering, limiting ours and our daughter’s interactions with the outside world. It has been hard to turn down playdates especially as we all would like our daughter to have the experience and she has been asking for them. Our philosophy is that the risk outweighs the reward. We have decided to socialise only with a few friends whose social distancing practices mirror our own. So far, our decision has been met very graciously, as I do believe that most people understand the reasonings.
We appreciate that not everyone shares our approach and so when we are asked for playdates, we are not offended, nor from an etiquette expert perspective do I feel it’s inappropriate. There is no way other parents would know where we stand and we are not offended if they keep asking, because honestly, it would be understandable if people’s perspectives change regarding socializing as this pandemic draws on and the infection level change.
As I have advised my clients who have asked for consultation regarding having difficult conversations, it’s not so much what you are saying (the playdate ask) but more in how you say it (the approach). I would suggest being honest and understanding in your approach for a playdate. Express your hesitation to gather and explain that you want to be respectful of everyone’s comfort levels, however your child really would like a play date and you would like to extend the invitation, understanding fully and without judgement if they do not feel comfortable.
Your child has been invited to a playdate by their friend, but you do not feel comfortable allowing it to happen. How do you decline without offending?
Even though it’s awkward, I would be ready and comfortable to discuss what level of social distancing you have been keeping and please try not to take any decision personally. It’s not a personal decision made against you or your child but rather a choice made by that person to do what’s best for their family. As they have that right and all information necessary to make the best decision for their family. We do not.
My advice for anyone who wishes to decline a playdate would be to express appreciation for the invitation; be honest about your social distancing practices; and communicate that it is not a personal assessment of their lifestyle but rather a choice you have decided to make as a family in your attempt to keep your family safe. As all parents have undoubtedly experienced, the playdate dance (they invited us, last so we invite next etc..) is a tricky one and you may have fears of your child being blacklisted for future playdates if you decline a playdate now. If you are concerned about keeping balance and your child off this figurative list, I would express appreciation for their understanding and that hopefully in the future you look forward to having more play dates together. Once you feel comfortable having playdates again you could initiate a playdate as a sign that you are comfortable with resuming playdates.
You’ve kept your child’s friendship circle small but one of the friend’s goes on a family staycation at the weekend. Should they inform you?
Although life in 2020 is proving unique, the social rules of civility and graciousness are still relevant and should guide our behavior and interactions. If you have been socially conservative, interacting with a small circle of friends and their children and you have decided to take a staycation or allow for more playdates, the gracious and considerate thing would be to inform the other families whom you regularly socialize with so that they can make an informed decision regarding your future social interactions together.
You’re out having a quiet family meal in public and another child approaches your child wanting to play. What do you do?
When out in public and other children approach your child wanting to play, if you decide to decline the invitation remember to be kind in doing so. I would suggest thanking the child but saying your children need to stay together as a family for the time being. I would also suggest having this conversation with your children (if they are old enough to be receptive) so that they too can express your family’s decision as well.
You’re out in public and your child would like to play with another child. What do you do?
If your child would like to approach another child to play, I would suggest you approach the parent and ask if they would feel comfortable if the children played together, understanding that they will be respecting mandated social distancing rules (masks, handwashing and distance).
Pandemic Playdate Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts
Do be considerate. When in doubt, follow one of the pillar principles of etiquette – consider the other.
Do err on the side of caution. When on playdates your child should wear a mask, respect distancing and ask the other parent in what environment would the other parent feel most comfortable.
Do teach your child to respect other people’s boundaries. If the playdate is at someone’s home remind your child to ask for permission to play with a toy as some may have been placed off limits or have not been cleaned.
Do speak to your child about social distancing so they understand and can respect other people’s boundaries without judgement.
Don’t invite other children to a play date you are hosting without informing the other parent.
Don’t forget your manners. In a time when stress is high and people are emotionally spread thin politeness and courtesy is ever more appreciated and needed.
Taylor Elizabeth Perramond is a UAE-based mother, etiquette coach and founder of The Elegance Advisor