Proper Playgroup Etiquette: Keeping the Mommies in Line

Minding your p’s and q’s isn’t just for school. Rumor has it—and it’s true—that manners matter at playgroup, too.

If you fill a large room with toys and add 6 smothering, doting mommies with their preschool-aged kids, what you get, in the end, is chaos (and lots of fun to boot). But sometimes even the best gang of gal pals and tots needs help handling those less-than-friendly, sticky situations that occur during playgroups.

Sticky Situation: Cole won’t let go of his much-coveted toy car and the other kids are getting upset.

Coping Mechanism: Sure, you know that sharing is caring and that good friends should take turns with toys. Cole, who is only 3 and just learning the cardinal rule of sharing, might need a little canoodling and consoling to give up that car.

“Explain to him—without yelling or taking the car away—that he can absolutely enjoy his toy for one more minute, and then he should let another friend use it for one minute. Use a stop watch to show him that you are sticking to the one-minute rule, and that he should, too,” explains Chicago psychologist Dr. Amy Robbins. Sometimes, if you show a child respect, he will obey and offer the respect back. “Be careful not to overreact or raise your voice, which only fuels the fire and often makes the child act out further,” Robbins adds.

Sticky Situation: Sam likes to treat your child’s arm as lunch (translation: your kid’s best bud is a biter).

Coping Mechanism: Any type of physical harm—be it pushing, kicking, hitting or biting—warrants a step-in from the parent, period. Use a firm voice and separate the kids. Find out, as best you can from your 3-year-old, what happened, and then take the matter seriously. Suggest, sweetly and sincerely, that Sam’s mom do the same. Try not to take the event personally, but think of it as an area where the other child needs improvement and instruction.

Sticky Situation: Sara is a manic, constant screamer.

Coping Mechanism: When earplugs just won’t do, make the “shushing” a group thing; don’t single out Sara, but remind the kids to use their indoor voices. Next, approach all the moms about the noise level. “Moms are usually pretty responsive when asked nicely to do things—especially when they are in someone else’s home. No one wants to be a bad party or playgroup guest,” explains Robbins. If all else fails, put on some music—loudly, to overpower Sara’s screeching—and have a playgroup dance party.

Sticky Situation: Cooper’s mom considers lollipops and cupcakes to be the basic food groups. And she brings enough sugar for all the kids to share.

Coping Mechanism: While you don’t want to offend Cooper’s mom, you do want to encourage playgroup participants to offer healthier options. Best advice, Robbins says, is to send an email the day before playgroup, offering to bring snacks for all the kids that are creative and nutritious. If the playgroup meets weekly, you can set a monthly menu: celery with cream cheese and raisins one week; carrots with dip the next; make-your-own yogurt parfaits; mini bagels with hummus and sliced veggies. Again, without isolating Cooper’s mom as the sugar supplier, this format will nudge her to think healthy.