I was recently asked how to handle a situation when a parent does not want their child to go to the home of a friend for a play date. How do you explain that to your child? Hmmm, interesting question. I had to stop and think about that one and my thoughts might be surprising.

First, why don’t you want your child to go to that friend’s home? In answering that, I believe, is the answer to the question.

Let’s start with safety issues. Is one of the parents an alcoholic or substance abuser, who is under the influence while your child is present? Are there guns that are not locked away? These pose real dangers. In this situation, I advocate for an honest approach. I would let the other parent know that you value the friendship between their child and your child yet you are not comfortable with, fill in the issue, and therefore although you are happy to have their child to your home, your child will not be visiting their home. In terms of your child, you can use this as a learning opportunity to talk with them about issues such as gun safety.

What about other issues related to the friend’s home? Maybe you view the home as dirty. Maybe the home is infested with bugs. Maybe the parent does not supervise to the extent that you would prefer. Maybe the parent feeds your child…heaven forbid…bologna…instead of organic vegetables. I know, you are ready to strangle me right now. You’re saying “But wait a minute, these are safety issues!” Yet, take a step back. These are not actually safety issues. Rather, these are differences in parenting style and lifestyle. These do not matter. Bottom line, these are your child’s friends and this is your child’s life. Your child will only benefit by learning to adapt to different rules and expectations, by being exposed to different households, and by learning how to choose their friends. Do not fall into the trap of over parenting. Your child most likely could careless that they are eating bologna. They care that they are having fun with their friend. In contrast, your child might be grossed out by the bugs in the home and decide that they do not want to go back to that friend’s home again. Then you can just explain to the other parent that your child prefers to have play dates with that friend at your home. You do not have to explain why…just chalk it up to the whims of a child. And you can again use this as a learning opportunity to talk with your child about cleanliness. Remember, children are transient and fickle, a friend one day can be an enemy the next. By allowing your child to figure these things out for themselves, rather than “choosing” their friends for them, gives your child the opportunity to develop important social, relationship, and decision-making skills.

What about issues related to the friend’s behavior, or may be one of the friend’s siblings? What if that friend is aggressive and struggles with social interactions? Again, most likely your child will not want to spend time with this child and will choose not to go to that friend’s home. You guessed it…to the other parent, chalk it up to the whims of a child and use it as a learning opportunity for your child. If your child does want to continue to spend time with this child, they can do so at your home where you can enforce your rules and expectations.

Another reason may be that you just do not like the other parent. In this case, that does not matter. Your relationship with another parent is separate from your child’s relationship with their children. You will encounter situations in which you can not stand the parent of your child’s friend. You will also encounter situations in which you are best friends with the parent of your child’s friend, only to find that weeks or months later your child and their child are no longer friends. I repeat, these are your child’s friends, not your friends.

To conclude, children just want to play with other children who are kind and who have similar interests. If left to their own devices, your children will figure out for themselves who they want to play with and in what environment. All will work out in the end.