Questions to Ask Before a Play Date
Your child's safety may hinge on the answers
When my son was in preschool in Berkeley, California, he often went over to a friend’s house for play dates. The mother and I were friendly, and I trusted her.
One day as we were picking up our children at the preschool, she mentioned they had been robbed and “all their guns” were stolen.
It had never even occurred to me to ask if they had guns in the home.
Turns out, the guns were all locked in a gun safe (the responsible way to store them). But the incident got me thinking about questions I should ask before sending my child to someone else’s house to play.
We may cringe at the idea of asking personal questions of parents we don’t know very well, but do it anyway, advises Rona Renner, RN, a parenting coach in Berkeley, California. “You should never shy away from protecting your child’s safety for fear of offending someone else,” she says. “Follow your gut, and ask what you need to ask.”
If you don't know the parents, talk with them on the phone or consider inviting them over. After you’ve chatted for a while, preface your queries with something like “I just have a few questions, and please feel free to ask me anything, too.”
Renner says to keep in mind there are many types of parenting. "Have realistic expectations while remembering that it's your job to do your best to keep your child safe,” she says.
Here are some questions Renner and safety experts at Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and other groups recommend you ask before a play date. You may also have others, for instance, ones about dogs and other pets if your child has allergies.
1. Who will be watching the children? Often a babysitter or nanny will be watching the kids instead of a parent. Ask who will be in charge and make sure you feel comfortable. “Do ask who will be home,” advises Renner. “Some people might think that it's fine to invite a child over even though the parent is going out and the older brother will be babysitting.” It’s up to you to decide whether that is OK for you and your child.
2. Do you have a pool (and is it fenced)? If your child can swim, a backyard swimming pool can make for a very fun time. If not, you’ll want to be sure it is secured so that children can’t access it. The CPSC recommends that the pool be completely fenced off with a self-latching four-foot fence.
If your child swims and has been invited over for some pool fun, ask who will be supervising the children. “When I send my kids to any situation with water, I have a conversation with the adult in charge,” says Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, a pediatrician at St. Louis Children's Hospital. “I would never allow my kids to swim unattended, even if they’re good swimmers."
3. What are your rules about screen time? If you don’t want your youngster watching, say, "Mortal Kombat" or horror movies, work that into the conversation. “Consider your child's temperament and needs,” advises Renner. “Some kids are quite sensitive to scary TV shows, for example. If you start off by talking about any quirks or needs regarding your child, you can then easily move into asking about things like TV viewing and video games.”
4. Does anyone in the house smoke? Almost a quarter of children aged 3 to 11 lives in a household with at least one smoker, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your child has asthma or you just don't want him exposed to cigarette smoke, mention that he seems affected by smoke and invite his friend over to your house instead.
5. Do you have guns in the house?In the United States, a third of all homes where kids live have guns, according to The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Center reports that nearly 1.7 million children live in a home with an unlocked, loaded gun, and 75 percent of kids aged 5 to 14 know where the gun is kept. Many parents think their guns are safely hidden, but children are curious and if there’s a gun in the home, there’s a good chance they’ll find it.
Before sending your child to play at another home, the University of Michigan Health System recommends you confirm that any guns are stored in a locked location and unloaded, with ammunition locked up separately. “This can be part of the usual things you would discuss before a visit, like allergies, snacks, sunscreen, etc.,” according to the UM Health System website. If you feel uncomfortable about your child being in a house with guns, invite his friend over to your house instead.
6. When should I pick up my child? Most parents remember to ask this question, but they may forget the answer. Be on time and the by-now-weary parents will likely be happy to have him over again.