How to Set Playdate Boundaries

Children playing

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Having your child go to another family’s house for a playdate might be seen as a welcome break, make you nervous, or fall somewhere in between. Regardless of the emotions involved, it never hurts to communicate expectations and boundaries.

“Ask yourself, what is my number one job as a parent?” suggests Becky Kennedy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book "Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be."

"My number one job is to keep my child safe," she adds. "Safety is really the foundation for everything else.”

With that, Dr. Becky suggests letting safety guide your feelings above all else. What will make you feel safe? What will make your child feel safe? Asking yourself what you know about this other family and their home can help alleviate any nervous feelings. Then, it's important to lean on communication—and trust. “We want our children to separate [from us as parents] and learn how to navigate the world and manage different situations,” she points out.

Ahead, we'll break down why having boundaries is important, and how to approach this topic with other parents so that your playdates can be as successful as possible.

Why Boundaries Matter

Boundaries might look different from family to family, as everyone has their own parenting style. What works for one household might not be a great fit for another, but it's always important for co-mingling families to find a middle ground and respect each other's boundaries. After all, playdate boundaries are ultimately for the benefit of the children involved, and when it comes to setting expectations, consistency can be key.

Dr. Becky notes that kids thrive amid a foundation of consistency—it's not necessarily about being rigid, of course, but communicating uniform expectations. “Consistency is not exactly about what we do, but the process that drives our decisions," she explains.

So what kind of boundaries might you want to put out there ahead of a playdate? As Dr. Becky suggests, start by thinking about guidelines that might be tied to safety. “If my child has an allergy, that’s definitely something I need to check in with the other parent about,” she offers as an example. Or, if the house has a pool, that could be a safety concern, and might need to be discussed with the other family in advance.

Ultimately, your boundaries can and should be respected—along with the other family's expectations, too.

How to Talk About Boundaries

Before a playdate, set up a conversation with the other parents. Your expectations should be explained in a gentle, calm manner, and not in a demanding way.

“Talk to them with ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements,” suggests Dr. Becky. “Let’s say it’s the person with a pool and I don’t want my child to go outside without adult supervision. I might say, 'Hey, I just wanted to talk to you about the guidelines around going outside at your house. [My child] doesn’t know how to swim yet. While she’s at your house, I want to know if it’s ok with you to not let [the children] go outside without adult supervision. That’s something I would need to make sure I feel safe.'"

Of course, there are many different areas in which boundaries might be applied. Here’s another example from Dr. Becky regarding video games: “I wanted to check in with you about video games during the playdate. No judgement. I know parents all have different guidelines. For us, video games aren’t an option on playdates.” Again, communicate with an “I” focus, rather than a “you” focus.

Not only is it important to discuss boundaries with the other parent, but it’s important to discuss them after the playdate with your own child, too.

“During playdates, your child may observe new behavior, wonder about it, and compare it to their own,” says Rachael Katz, MS, Ed, who teaches social and emotional learning skills to parents and children and is the co-author of the book "The Emotionally Intelligent Child: Effective Strategies for Parenting Self-Aware, Cooperative & Well-Balanced Kids."

Katz adds that children might come home testing what they recently experienced during their playdate. “To foster your child’s emotional intelligence, explicitly talk with your child about how your family culture might differ from their friend’s—without passing judgement.”

Ask About the Other Household's Boundaries

Remember, setting up boundaries works both ways.

“If a child is coming to your home, or your child is going on a playdate at a friend’s house, and you’d like to talk with the family about your...values and boundaries, I suggest inquiring about theirs first,” says Katz.

Show compassion and respect for the differences between families. “I suggest explicitly asking the other parent, ‘Are there any boundaries or...guidelines you’d like me to follow?’ and ‘How would you like me to support your child while they are in our home?'" suggests Helen Shwe Hadani, PhD, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, where she conducts research on the benefits of playful learning.

Hadani, who is also co-author of the book "The Emotionally Intelligent Child: Effective Strategies for Parenting Self-Aware, Cooperative & Well-Balanced Kids," adds that as the conversation continues, it's a good opportunity for you to share your boundaries, too.

What If a Boundary Is Crossed?

Perhaps you don’t want your child jumping on a trampoline because of a past experience that has created a safety concern. This was expressed ahead of time, but when you go to pick up your child, you see them jumping on the trampoline.

“Take a deep breath and, assuming your child is safe in the moment, say to yourself, 'I don’t have to do anything right now,'" says Dr. Becky. "'I’m safe, my child is safe. I can figure this out.'"

She suggests leaving the situation with your child without a confrontation. Speaking up now may trigger you into saying something you don’t mean.

If this is a first-time offense, try contacting the parent later with this script from Dr. Becky:

“Hey, I wanted to talk. I know this could come off as criticism, but it’s truly coming from a place of curiosity so we can move forward with what feels good for both of us. I know I mentioned I didn’t want my child on the trampoline at the playdate, and when I came, I saw they were on the trampoline. I’m just curious about what happened? Maybe my communication wasn’t clear? We are on the same team here, but...I just want to talk it out with you.”

If this is the second or third time that a boundary was crossed, you might want to reconsider scheduling playdates with this family in the future.

When to Loosen Your Boundaries

Some children may feel as though their parents are being overprotective, especially if they see what is “allowed” at another friend’s house. Dr. Becky explains that it’s important to check in with yourself and take an honest look at your concerns and worries.

“It’s not about what’s 'normal,'” says Dr. Becky. “Anytime we ask ourselves, 'is this normal?' we are bound to feel bad about ourselves. We aren’t asking the right questions. It’s about what works for us, and what we think is good for our kids.”

For example, if you’re nervous about your kids going on the monkey bars, you might also ask yourself: Could it also be beneficial for their development?

“It’s good for [children] to take small risks and explore,” Dr. Becky says. “Try to separate your feelings from what you think is best for your child, and that’s going to inform the best intervention."

It's very common for parents to have worries and anxiety around their child getting hurt or something bad happening to them. It's also important to step back and remember that making a mistake is okay, and your child will probably learn and grow from it. If you're having trouble separating your internal struggles from your child's behavior, consider talking with a counselor, therapist, or your healthcare provider.

A Word from Verywell

It’s natural for you to expect that your guidelines are followed when your child is at someone else’s home. It’s important to communicate those boundaries with clear and concise language ahead of time, so that the other parents can understand your requirements and respect your rules.

If a boundary is crossed, pause and remove yourself and your child from the situation. When you’re able to calmly discussed what happened, contact the person from a place of curiosity, not criticism, and be sure to have a follow-up conversation with your child as well. And remember, boundaries work both ways, and it's always crucial to ask the other set of parents about their guidelines, too.

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  1. Psychology Today. 8 tips to ease parental anxiety.

By Dory Zayas
Dory Zayas is a freelance beauty, fashion, and parenting writer. She spent over a decade writing for celebrity publications and since having her daughter in 2019, has been published on sites including INSIDER and Well+Good.