How To Nail The Virtual Playdate

Just because the playdates are online, doesn't mean they can't be interactive. Think puppet shows, makeovers, or a music session.
A young boy at home over the weekend using a laptop to do his homework.
A young boy at home over the weekend using a laptop to do his homework.

My daughter loves a playdate. Our journeys to school in the mornings (pre-school closures, of course) used to be filled with her begging for a friend to come over that afternoon – Scarlett, Emilia, Margot, or all three at once.

I’d try and host one a week, and even though it meant extra noise, extra food and extra high-pitched screaming; in a way, it got me off the hook. At eight, they’re now able to disappear into a bedroom and play unsupervised, meaning I only have one small child left to entertain.

Playdates were a source of weekly joy to my little girl, time to shake off the routine of school and learning. When we discovered schools would be closing and a lockdown was impending, the very first thing she asked was whether she could still see her friends. When I said, sadly, that she couldn’t, she began to cry.

But, as we’ve since learned – all is not lost. We’re just in the world of the virtual playdate, now. Here’s how to make it work.

We're living in a virtual world, play dates included. 
We're living in a virtual world, play dates included. 

#1 Keep an eye on them.

You might be tempted to leave them to it, but sending your child off with a device without supervision might not be the best idea – especially if they’re a toddler who’ll likely want to just put the phone in their mouth (or chuck it on the floor). Make sure you’re nearby, keeping an eye – and ear – on what’s going on. It doesn’t mean breathing down their neck, just be an active parent, and remember those passwords and privacy settings.

This is all age-dependant, of course. The older they are, the more likely they will be independent. I let my daughter FaceTime from the room next door, and pop my head around the door, occasionally. When we asked the HuffPost UK Parents community, one mom told us her daughter and school friend played ‘Roblox’ together online – which gave her some peace! “They chatted for over an hour,” she said. “It was so lovely to hear her giggling upstairs and I got an hour to myself, too!”

#2 Find the right app.

There are so many options: some that allow games, others that allow three and four-way calls, and some that are better done on a laptop: FaceTime, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts or Skype. Whatever app you choose, make sure it’s safe.

Some apps, such as Houseparty, have had reports of services being hacked – so keep an eye on any updates or safety recommendations. That being said, a spokesperson for Houseparty told HuffPost UK: “We’ve found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts. No one should delete their accounts as all accounts are safe.”

A mom told us Houseparty and Zoom have been a lifeline for her eight-year-old old twins. “They’ve been playing Heads Up and trivia games on Houseparty and having fashion shows and chats on Zoom,” she says. “They were a bit bashful at first – and then got verbal diarrhoea!”

#4 Don’t forget people can probably hear you.

“STOP HITTING YOUR SISTER WITH A PLASTIC TOASTER”, I yelled, before realizing that my daughter was still immersed in her ‘virtual playdate’ with Margot – and Margot’s parents were in the same room. Gone are the days of pretending you’re the ‘perfect parent’. Everyone can hear you, now.

#5 Agree timings.

Depending on the age of your child, you might want to agree a timing for a playdate with the friend’s mom – as well as how long they’ll chat for – to avoid any arguments when it’s time to get off FaceTime and eat their dinner.

#6 Think outside the box.

Just because they’re not together physically, it doesn’t mean your kids can’t do interactive activities. My daughter was so quiet, I thought she’d ended the FaceTime call with her friend – but I found out they were drawing pictures, in tandem. Less peaceful, but similarly interactive versions, include: “You play a song on your piano, and I’ll sing along”; “Let’s play our recorders together” and the very cute: “let’s do makeovers!”

One reader told us she has been setting up a virtual video calls for her kids and their friends once or twice a week – including puppet show performances. “Lots is asking each other what they ate for breakfast, I think the four-year-olds are handling it better than the parents!” she said.

You can even host virtual birthday parties. One mom said her sister has done exactly that. “They’ve loved being to ‘see’ their friends and celebrate together,” she said.

#7 Let them choose.

Ask them who they want to call – and when they want to do it. They might want to simply chat, or sing, or get the aforementioned dreaded recorders out. Whatever it is, as long as they’re doing it safely, you don’t have to be a helicopter parent. Allow your kids to get creative, and support them in trying to come up with new ways to virtually socialize.

One parent said her kids were using the virtual playdate as a “show and tell” experience, with them just showing each other their best toys. “Ours have been hit and miss,” she added. “Some brilliant, some they just ran off!”

#8 Don’t force it.

Just as you may get exhausted by the constant video calls, your kid may too. If the date and time are scheduled, but your child isn’t into it, don’t force it. Rearrange for another time when they’re more willing to chat.

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