Playdates Gone Bad

This article appears in our June issue of Indy’s Child Magazine. Pick one up at a grocer, library or community center near you! 


Who hasn’t experienced a playdate they thought would never end? Maybe your son’s pal from school has arrived for the afternoon and views your home as a new jungle gym to be conquered. Or your daughter’s little friend has no problem backtalking and challenging any comment you make (a trait your daughter seems to be admiring.) Sometimes the little offender has an impressive range of profanity worked into their dialogue. The worst visits however, seem to end in actual casualties, like bruises and stitches.

Many parents have experienced the playdate gone bad and terribly awry before. Whether you are the one in charge or the one whose child came home from the fray, it can be easy to overreact, point fingers and increase the intensity of the situation. But there are better ways to handle these types of incidents. Beverly Mussetter, a therapist and the senior clinical supervisor at LifeSolutions, has some tips on how to be ready the next time you have to handle one of these sticky situations.

Stay calm

It can be difficult to keep your emotions in check when a child you’re hosting misbehaves while at your house, but maintaining a calm demeanor is your best course of action. “Especially if it’s a new playdate friend and the child doesn’t know [you] very well, don’t shame the child, yell at them or put them in a timeout,” advises Mussetter. Try not to get too emotionally charged about a situation before hearing all the details.

Really listen

Instead, the first thing parents should do is get the whole story. Mussetter suggests sitting down with the child and asking if they’re angry about something, tired, sleepy, etc. Sometimes an underlying problem can be identified, and when that is solved, the reason for the misbehavior is solved too.

Redirect back to better behavior

After listening to everyone involved and figuring out what really happened, take the opportunity to enforce your rules and values with your own kids and explain to your guest about how things are done differently in your house. If the problem was inappropriate language or mean behavior from your young visitor, tell them that your family doesn’t say those words or treat people that way. Explain that if they are going to come to your house again, they will have to respect your rules.

Get to know the other parents

“Anybody who invites a child into their home needs to know the parents of that child,” says Mussetter. By getting to know mom and dad a bit, you can better understand how they choose to parent. Problematic situations are easier to address when families have some familiarity with each other.

Think carefully about talking to the other parents

Ask yourself how important this transgression really was. If a child misbehaved at your house, is it something to an extent that his parent would need to be aware of it? If your child had a bad experience at someone else’s home, is it small enough for you to just let go? Consider carefully the possible aftermath of deciding to make an issue of whatever happened.

If you do decide to have a conversation about the event, try chatting in person versus communicating by phone or text. If a parent becomes extremely defensive or angry, ending the conversation and moving on may be your best choice. As Mussetter says, kids model what they learn at home, which may explain the reason for the difficulty in the first place.

If you would like to have future playdates with this child, or a valuable friendship with the other parent may be jeopardized, you’ll have to bring the issue up tactfully – as hard as that might be.

No matter what happens, Mussetter encourages parents to always remain calm and try to get to the bottom of a situation by listening to all children involved. Playdates gone bad can provide an opportunity to learn about another type of family, their values and their situation. All of this information provides teachable moments to pass on to your own kids – who will hopefully be invited to many playdates of their own.

Indy's Child
Indy's Child
For 40 years, Indy's Child has been the trusted source for Indianapolis families seeking fun, educational, and enriching experiences. Our award-winning magazine and website are dedicated to providing expert advice, insider tips, and up-to-date information on everything from the best local attractions and events to parenting resources and support. As local experts deeply rooted in the central Indiana community, our passionate team at Indy's Child is dedicated to uncovering the best family-friendly experiences and resources our city has to offer. Whether you're new to parenting or looking for new ideas, Indy's Child is here to help you enjoy the adventure of raising a family in central Indiana.

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