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Are Playdates Safe?

2020-07-08 by Dr. Jenny
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Greetings from Michigan! I’m grateful that the mitten state, where I live and practice, has moved beyond its first wave of COVID-19 infections, and life is opening up a little. I know that is not the case in other states, and parents reading this might be in places where safety recommendations are changing by the day. But wherever you are, I’m sure that things aren’t feeling completely “normal,” and you may be still trying to figure out what degree of lockdown-loosening you’re comfortable with.

I hear a range of feelings from different parents. Some are so excited to let their kids finally see their friends — and not just be around us parents all the time! Some are anxious about increasing their family’s infection risk — even ever-so-slightly — because of a family member who is vulnerable. And I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s hard to think straight about what’s the best way to parent during a pandemic, because chronic stress scatters our brains.

Kids running outdoors

5 Tips for Planning Your Kids’ Playdates (Or Not)

Here are a few guiding ideas to help you make decisions about playdates:

  1. Know your state’s rates
    I check my state’s COVID-19 website every few days, if not every day. It’s really helpful to know if COVID-19 rates are falling or rising in your area. When things are low and stable, it’s less likely that COVID-19 is spreading in your community, which means that kids are unlikely to pass it to each other. If new case numbers are spiking, however, I would hold back. This would make me feel less comfortable widening my kids’ social circle beyond their siblings. But don’t go overboard! Pick only a few cousins, friends, or neighbors that your child can see on a regular basis. If they’re invited to a birthday party, it’s OK if it’s outdoors and kids can keep their distance (such as riding bikes with each other).
  2. Listen to other parents, and hold judgement
    Let’s please not let COVID-19 parenting become a new part of the “Mommy Wars!” We’re all doing the best we can to figure out a crazy new challenge. If you’re trying to plan a playdate, tell the other parent honestly and clearly what you’re comfortable with, and ask them the same. Admit that no one knows the perfect way to do this, and don’t rush to judgment if your ideas differ. But mention a few possible activities, and try to find an arrangement that you’re both comfortable with. If you can’t, it’s OK to wait until there’s a vaccine!
  3. Keep it outdoors
    Kids can easily keep more distance from each other when on a walk in the woods, kicking a ball back and forth, running through a sprinkler, or gardening in patches several feet apart.
  4. Find low-touch games
    Maybe hold off on the trading card games and definitely don’t allow sharing of kazoos. Good options include soccer, obstacle courses, or kids bringing their own art supplies. I let my kids play in the yard with neighborhood friends, but the rule is that they wash their hands as soon as they come inside.
  5. Set them up for success
    It’s important to realize that kids’ brains are feeling a little scattered at this point too. They may need a little more structure to help them have a successful interaction with other kids (i.e., not turning into a shouting match!). You might want to suggest some play ideas with clear structure (chalk drawings where each child gets their own square of sidewalk, taking turns setting off a stomp rocket) that will help kids stay more regulated.

Most importantly, we as parents are going to have to be flexible. Life is changing rapidly right now, and the best thing we can do is take a deep breath, role model to our kids that big feelings are manageable, and be adaptable.

Wishing you some peaceful moments this week!

The American Academy of Pediatrics is partnering with Melissa & Doug on the Power of Play to raise awareness about the health benefits of open-ended play and how important play is for both parents and kids.

Learn more about the Power of Play >

This web site is not an attempt to practice medicine or provide specific medical advice, nor does use of the site establish a physician-patient relationship. The use of this web site does not replace medical consultation with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or others.


Dr. Jenny

Jenny Radesky, M.D., is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician whose research focuses on family digital media use, child social-emotional development, and parent-child interaction. She graduated from Harvard Medical School cum laude in 2007 and is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Her clinical work focuses on autism, traumatic stress, ADHD, and self-regulation. Dr. Jenny’s ultimate goal is to help parents understand the individual ways their child thinks, learns, and feels; to help parents provide the best therapy and play experiences for their children; but to also allow parents to sit back and let their child’s mind take the lead sometimes. She authored the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for young children.

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