Whether you dread play dates or look forward to them, they go hand in hand with childhood. Your child will spend many hours with friends over the course of her early years. Play dates are a prime opportunity to help your child build social skills, such as taking turns and having a conversation, while also giving her a chance to have fun with her peers. The length of a play date factors into how successful it turns out to be.
The age of the children playing helps you determine when a play date should end. Babies might be perfectly happy playing next to each other for extended periods of time, but toddlers are bound to get sick of sharing and taking turns rather quickly. Grade school kids are likely to be able to handle longer play dates than toddlers. Regardless of age, a play date that's too long can be frustrating for kids and the parents in charge. The BabyCenter website suggests starting with an hour and adding extra time as your child gets used to play dates, though just a couple of hours is usually plenty for young kids.
The activities the kids engage in can help you set a limit on the time of a play date. If your child is having a friend over to play at your house, they might be done sooner than if you go somewhere together. Boredom is likely to set in quicker if the kids are stuck in the house playing with toys or doing art projects. On the other hand, the play date might last longer if it happens at the playground, a recreation center or the community swimming pool. More than just a couple of hours might be fine away from home, but one to two is probably ideal for an at-home play date.
How well the kids at the play date mesh with each other can help you end a play date or keep it going a bit longer. Easygoing children might handle playing for longer than kids who are more set in their ways. If your child is fine letting other kids pick the games or toys to play with, he can probably handle a play date that lasts for several hours. If he has trouble sharing his favorite toys or giving up control of what happens next, a shorter play date of just an hour or two might be a better idea.
If you're having a play date at your home for young kids, the guests' moms or dads will probably want to be nearby, especially if the kids are new to the world of play dates. If you get along with the other parents and the kids are having fun and playing nicely, a play date can last longer. On the other hand, if the play date only happens for the benefit of the kids, it can be harder to sustain. If play dates turn awkward or tense, it might be best to keep them at just an hour or so rather than planning to play all afternoon.