Playdates with other children can help kids develop crucial social skills, but for parents and caregivers, they can also be a source of stress and worry, especially if the playdate location or host is unfamiliar.
Regardless of whether the child is old enough to go to friends’ homes by themselves or their caretaker prefers to tag along, there are many helpful questions families can ask to make sure everyone understands what’s expected.
HuffPost reached out to pediatricians across the country to learn what they like to ask the parents of their children’s friends before a playdate. Some are common inquiries, while others might not be on many parents’ radars.
Check out their important questions below.
Is there a pool and how accessible is it?
According to a 2012 statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are kids who are 14 years old or younger. In other words, if a child has access to a pool during a playdate, his or her parent should know about it.
Dr. Reshmi Basu, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California, is mom to a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old and accompanies her kids on playdates. She told HuffPost it’s crucial to not only ask about whether there’s a pool, but if it’s a swim playdate, the parent should make sure there is an adult who knows it’s their job to watch the pool and the kids closely. Most parents will be watchful, but it’s helpful if at least one adult has the task to be even more alert.
“If [the kids] are going to the pool … make sure there are designated parents always watching the pool,” she said. “Even if everybody is a swimmer.”
“The sense of ‘we’re all here,’ that’s exactly when accidents can happen.”
– Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais, a Chicago-area pediatrician
Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais, a Chicago-area pediatrician with four kids (a 16-year-old, 15-year-old twins and a 12-year-old), is a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She echoed Basu’s suggestion to have a designated adult keep an eye on the kids.
“The sense of ‘we’re all here,’ that’s exactly when accidents can happen,” she said.
Dr. Vanessa Charette, a pediatrician for Cook Children’s in Fort Worth, Texas, and a mom of two, also reminded parents that it’s not only pools that can be dangerous if kids are unsupervised. She suggested that parents ask if there are any ponds or lakes near the house.
“If yes, how are the children prevented from accessing it without an adult?” she recommended asking.
Has anyone in your home had a fever or been sick lately?
With flu season in full swing, it’s smart to ask whether anyone has been sick at the other child’s home.
Dr. Danis Copenhaver of South Slope Pediatrics in Brooklyn, New York, has a 2-and-a-half-year-old, and before supervised playdates, Copenhaver makes sure to ask which other adults will be there and whether anyone in the home has been sick or, more specifically, whether anyone has had a fever recently.
As for other medical-related inquiries, Dr. Melanie Wilson-Taylor, a mom of two who is also with South Slope Pediatrics, said parents should “consider the immunization status/belief system of the household.”
What kind of screen time or media restrictions do you have?
There are many ways to broach the topic of screen time. Basu suggested asking what the overall plan is during the playdate. This helps her understand what kind of media her kids may encounter.
“Are they going to be on their devices the whole time? Will they be watching a movie? That might be OK. It depends on the parent’s comfort level,” she said. “But I would want to know if we are going to watch a movie what that may be. Is it a G or PG-13 movie? I would just want to know what they’re going to be watching.”
Dr. Justin Smith, a pediatrician for Cook Children’s and a father of three, recommended asking, “What will the kids be doing there?”
“Some families may be more comfortable with unsupervised play or content that we would not be comfortable with our children consuming,” he said. “The supervision piece has relaxed as our kids have gotten older, but we are still very cautious about media they may be exposed to.”
Dr. Hai Cao of South Slope Pediatrics has an 8-year-old daughter and before her playdates, he asks about screen time limits as well as what the kids might have access to online.
“Is there security as far as online contact with others?” he recommended asking.
Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Kansas City, Missouri, and a spokesperson for the AAP, also inquires about security for her kids by asking, “Do you have parental controls on your Wi-Fi or devices?”
“Trampolines make me nervous personally. As pediatricians, we see injuries from them, like broken bones.”
– Dr. Reshmi Basu, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California
Do you have a trampoline?
The AAP advises against having a trampoline at home. In 2016, the group released information about the increase of emergency room visits due to trampoline park injuries. Every year, pediatricians see patients with injuries related to the recreational item.
“Trampolines make me nervous personally,” Basu said. “As pediatricians, we see injuries from them, like broken bones.”
She said it’s helpful for parents to know if there will be a trampoline at the playdate so they can establish any rules or guidance about them ahead of time with their kids.
Are there any pets at home and are they child friendly?
While many kids grow up with a pet in the house, others don’t, so some parents find it helpful to know about pets (and their temperaments) ahead of time. It can be beneficial for some kids to know whether to expect a pet where they’re going. Both Copenhaver and Charette said they typically ask a form of this question before any kind of playdate.
Does anyone in your home have a food allergy? Are there any dietary restrictions?
Wilson-Taylor suggested parents ask any important food-related questions ahead of the playdate. If the hosting family sticks to a no-pork household or a kosher kitchen, parents coming over can adjust accordingly.
Inquiries about food allergies are also immensely helpful. Wilson-Taylor said whether you’re hosting or your child is going over to someone’s house, make sure you know what foods are safe to have around.
It’s also important to ask your own kids questions before playdates. Two of Flais’ kids have life-threatening food allergies. She said aside from making sure the hosting family is familiar with what to do in case there’s an allergy-related emergency, she always makes sure to ask if her kids have their epinephrine auto-injectors with them while hanging out with friends.
“Playdates are great for so many reasons,” she said. “They give kids personal responsibility for their own medications. Same for kids with asthma who need an inhaler or someone with diabetes who needs insulin.”
Are there guns in the home?
By far, this was the most popular question among the pediatricians interviewed. And there are a few different inquiries surrounding it.
Flais recommended asking, “Is there a gun in the home and, if so, is it unloaded and locked away?”
Last year, Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, chief medical officer of Seattle Children’s Hospital who’s involved with the institution’s gun safety program, told HuffPost that asking about guns is just as important as asking about car seats and seat belts.
“We look at this as a public health issue,” Del Beccaro said, “just like if we had another cause of death and cause of injury that approached this level.”
These are only a handful of possible questions parents might want to ask before heading over to someone else’s home. Based on the answers they get, families can then decide what works for them.
“Ask yourself what you are comfortable with and what you are not and make your playdate plans based on that,” Charette said. “You can always invite the kids to your house or meet at a park if you are uncomfortable with answers you hear.”