The more involved that you are with your kids, the more involved you’ll be with their friends, the Opies. What are some things to remember when they’re over to play?
First, what’s an Opie? Opie is short for Other Peoples’ Kids, any child that isn’t actually my own. I know their names and use them, but Opie is the generic term that I’ve come to use over the years. Likewise, my own kids are someone else’s Opies.
Your child’s earliest years will revolve around you and your mate but once they hit preschool, they’ll meet other kids and want to play. This is natural and needs to be encouraged; playing with their peers and developing friendships is critical for them. This also means that there are going to be playtimes at your house and you need to be prepared because not all Opies are created equal.
So what to remember?
- How long is Opie going to stay? Knowing this lets you know what else is going to be entailed: nap? snack? electronic entertainment/play? It may seem simple, but I had an early experience when the other parent didn’t come back for hours because we misunderstood one another.
- Does Opie have any food allergy? While not widespread, some children have allergies to peanuts, milk or other foods. Likewise, find out if there any allergies to any pets that you have or any fears of animals and be ready to lock them away for the duration.
- If Opie is a toddler, is he still in training pants or diapers? For over a year after my kids were out of training pants, I kept a stash of clean training pants in case a visiting Opie needed one.
- When they’re very young, stay close in order to keep an eye on what’s happening. When you get to know Opie and are more comfortable with her, then you can give the kids some space out of sight. I still kept it a habit to check in on things as the time progressed. As a matter of fact, I still discretely check on the kids when they’re in the basement with friends.
- Prepare to be patient. Some Opies, regardless of their age, will press the boundaries to see what’s acceptable and what they can frankly get away with. Apply the same rules that you have with your own kids and feel free to issue warnings and timeouts, but corporal punishment with Opies must absolutely not happen. If things get that bad, call the parent to pick Opie up. I’ve done it and it’s extremely uncomfortable, but not handling the issue only teaches the Opie that it’s Open Season at your place and sends a strong negative message to your own kid.
- Try to keep the electronics under control. Just sitting in front of a screen isn’t helping either child learn how to play and interact with one another. My usual rule has been that any screen time happens later in the visit; the kids have played together and perhaps they’re needing a break from one another sooner than Opie’s parent has planned to arrive.
- When Opie’s leaving, share any events or news with Opie’s folks. This is especially important when the kids are younger because parents do have to keep track of things like snacks and bowel movements.
- I’m cautious as a father about informing the other parent if I’ve had to help Opie with wiping the bottom or cleaning up after an accident. By cautious, I mean that I make it a point to tell the other parent so that they don’t scratch their heads when Opie later makes some weird remark about PracticalDad seeing private parts or helping wipe. This is a judgment call based upon several factors: How well do I know the family? How old is the child? I’ve had the situation of watching a Kindergarten Opie for several hours and found that the child needed help wiping himself. Because I didn’t know the family very well and the age was older than what I would’ve expected, I told Opie’s Dad at pickup about helping the boy.
- Make it a point to chat with your own child afterwards. The more your child is used to just chatting with you, the more likely they’ll tell you things and you’ll be amazed at what you learn. This will diminish somewhat in the future, but what smaller children reveal is a goldmine for later items to discuss with them.
Things will change as they age and by necessity, the ground rules. But it’ll be easier for you later if you become used to it earlier.