As the world opens, parents’ phones everywhere are lighting up with invitations from their kid’s friends to have some good, old-fashioned fun, which is a relief for many who’ve been cooped up with their kids all day for the past year. However, despite the increase in social activity among adults, a coronavirus vaccine for children under 12 years old won’t likely arrive until later this year (if at all). Add to that the typical, non-pandemic reasons a parent may be wary about saying yes to a particular playdate, and our kids may be facing more social rejections than usual this school holidays. That’s ok — as long as we decline with care.
Despite whatever safety precautions families have put in place for a playdate, there will be times when the other family declines — or doesn’t even respond to — an invite, which can cause the child who is hosting to have some hurt feelings. But as the managers of our children’s social activities and safety, parents have an opportunity to be an example of politeness and kindness when invitations conflict with their wellbeing or schedules. Not everyone is comfortable in every situation, but ghosting another little kid is never cool.
Here are some reasons parents turn down playdates — and (hopefully) how to do it without awkwardness, hard feelings, or tears.
Why parents turn down playdates
Playdates are popular because they give the non-hosting parents an opportunity to have some alone time, and they offer children the chance to be social and independent with friends outside of the structure of daycare or school. But sometimes, a parent simply may not feel comfortable dropping their child off at another family’s home.
A 2019 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents of children ages four to nine how they approach playdate invitations. When the playdate was in someone else’s home, more than 41 per cent of those polled said they were worried about the level of supervision their children would receive, which ranked just above anxieties about swearing, being exposed to harmful substances, or getting injured — the latter being an especially reasonable concern if the other family has a pool or trampoline.
In addition, 17 per cent of parents polled said their decision to accept a playdate was influenced by how well their child does around strangers, more than 10 per cent were concerned about their child’s fear of pets, and around eight per cent were worried about their kids’ diet or health.
If the kids are young enough to not be vaccinated (or parents are concerned or unfamiliar with the vaccination status of other members of the family), that may be reason enough to want to take a rain check on a playdate this summer.
When should you turn down a playdate?
Although safety is the main reason parents turn down playdates, the poll also found that less than half of parents have asked another parent about safety concerns before a playdate, and just one in four parents have been asked these types of questions themselves. Some families assume that their values on child safety are shared, and many parents are embarrassed to bring up their concerns for fear of hurting another parent’s feelings or questioning their parenting skills.
The best way to know if you and another parent share the same values regarding safety, though, is pretty straightforward: Ask them. The poll showed most parents wouldn’t be offended if another parent discussed these issues before a playdate. Some parents have found it helpful to write a checklist to ensure all safety matters (COVID or otherwise) are addressed and discuss any food safety concerns before letting their child go to another home. If their answers don’t meet your satisfaction, it’s time to consider turning down that playdate — nicely.
How to politely turn down a playdate
According to Romper, honesty is generally the best policy when turning down a playdate with grace and tact. You may not want to fully explain the reasons behind why you’re turning down an invitation — whether it has to do with social distancing, health concerns, or other matters — but most parents understand that your child’s safety is more important than any one social activity, and being honest sure beats being caught in a lie.
If being too honest risks offending the other parent, you can always let them down easy by saying you’re busy with “family time.” (Just don’t offer a fake rain check if you don’t want to be on the hook for a future get-together.) If you want to say yes, but having the playdate at their home gives you pause for whatever reason, you can suggest a change of venue to your home or a nearby park. You won’t get the alone time you’ve been craving, but you won’t be depriving your child of much-needed social time either.
Whatever you decide, respond promptly and politely so you don’t leave the other kid hanging.