Before your family socializes post-pandemic, there are new rules to know. Follow these pediatrician-approved tips to ensure the safest playdate possible.

By Melissa Mills
July 08, 2020
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After roughly four months, most Americans—those deemed nonessential, at least—are going back out into the world little by little again. Wearing masks and standing six feet apart, we're all trying to figure out what's OK and which of the ever-changing guidelines will keep our families healthy. No one likes the "new normal" this pandemic has created, but it's better to be safe than sorry as you start socializing with others—especially when it comes to our kids.

According to experts, playdates aren't actually advised since they don't really allow for the recommended social distancing that should still be enforced when you're around others not in your circle. But as we all know, as each day passes it's getting harder and harder not to expand our circles to include loved ones and friends again, especially if that means our children can socialize again.

If you are going to organize a playdate, encourage kids to stay outside and keep it small (think one or two kids, max), says Dorota A. Szczepaniak, M.D., pediatrician at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis. Please keep in mind, though, that children who are immunocompromised or have chronic medical conditions should probably avoid gatherings—as well as most public places, like shopping malls or playgrounds—because they may be at a higher risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19.

If your child is healthy and itching to play with their friends—and we know you're probably craving a little adult interaction, too—follow this pediatrician-approved checklist before your next get-together. Have fun, be safe, and wash your hands!

Your Pre-Playdate Checklist

1. Make plans with friends or family you trust.

In these uncertain times, you only have control over so much. You can practice social distancing and make sure your family washes their hands frequently, but there's no way to know what others are doing. That's why you should only make plans with family and friends that you know are taking the same precautions that you are. This will allow you to be a little more relaxed when you do meet up.

"You do not have to be in complete agreement as long as you can come to an understanding for your kids," says Snehal Doshi, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician and CEO at Millennium Neonatology in Charlotte, North Carolina. "For example, if one parent doesn't wear masks and goes everywhere, and the other family wears masks all the time, it will be very hard for their children to play together because of the risk profile of the first family."

Depending on your comfort level, you might even want to check if your friends or family have socialized with anyone else recently or have interacted in any large groups. Did they wear masks? How are their kids with social distancing? Do their children go to daycare or camp, or have they had other playdates recently? These are all good questions to consider when making plans to make sure you have your bases covered before your outing.

2. Check how everyone's feeling.

Has anyone in either house had a fever (100.4 and over), cough, sneeze, runny nose, or been feeling tired or achy? Has anyone been near someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days? If anyone answers "yes," it's best to reschedule or cancel.

Sure, it's a little awkward, but Dr. Szczepaniak agrees that "it will be best if all the parents agree on the rules ahead of time."

3. Plan an outdoor outing.

Encourage outside play whenever possible. This allows fresh air to limit the spread of germs—and enough space for children to spread out. Bike riding and sidewalk chalk are fun activities, but remember to keep in mind the usual summer safety precautions if your kids will be playing in a pool or on a trampoline, advises Dr. Szczepaniak.

And remember: if your kiddos can't practice social distancing or if someone's feeling sick, virtual playdates via Zoom or FaceTime—while a little less exciting—are always a safe option.

4. Pack the essentials.

Don't forget face coverings for those 2 and up, hand sanitizer, wipes, and disinfectant spray—better to be safe and bring it all with you. "Consider doing breaks every 15-20 minutes for hand-washing and a water break," says Dr. Szczepaniak.

You should also be mindful to bring extra sets of toys and individually wrapped snacks so the kids don't have to share or get too close. Normally you'd be encouraging sharing, but during the pandemic you'll want to minimize having their hands on surfaces you can't disinfect between uses.

5. Practice social distancing ahead of time.

Remind your kids that it's still a good idea to keep a distance from others in public spaces. Dr. Doshi suggests practicing with pool noodles or hula hoops at home ahead of time to help kids understand how big six feet actually is.

On the day of the playdate, "bring their own toys and put two mats near each other," says Dr. Doshi. "Try to get the kids to stay on their own mats. They can play together, but apart. For whatever activity they are doing, have the adult define a safe space for the child—one that no one comes into."

And don't forget face coverings for older children. Look for fun masks—like those with superheroes or cartoon characters—so your kids will actually be more likely to wear them.

6. Get everyone's contact info.

In the case that someone develops symptoms after the playdate, make sure you're ready to set up a phone chain to notify the group ASAP.

"Try and keep your social circle or bubble small," says Dr. Doshi. "That way if someone gets sick, it is easier to trace." 

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