Play date protocol

Is your well-meant meddling taking the fun out of your kids' play dates?

Play dates are supposed to be fun—not exercises in conspicuous consumption and a barrage of non-stop scheduled activities. But in our zeal to make sure our kids are stimulated, and that the play dates are on a par with our neighbors', we sometimes overdo it. We act as if our kids can't manage their social lives without expensive props and a heavy dose of parental intrusion.

Relax! Most kids can easily entertain themselves. They just need a safe, kid-friendly environment, some age-appropriate props and the knowledge that an adult is on the premises, not too far out of sight or ear shot. If the kids' energies start to flag, or tempers grow short, then story time or an imaginative game might be in order.

Here are two game suggestions:

Pretend. All young kids like to pretend. Suggest a pretend situation for the kids to imagine they are in. Stranded on a desert island, lost in a foreign city or exploring a cave that might have bears in it. Ask the children to think about what they would do, and then act it out together.

Treasure Hunt. Stage a treasure hunt at home. Suggest a criterion and send them off to hunt. How many objects that start with the letter C can the kids find? What about things that are smaller than a thimble? Be sure to set restrictions on certain rooms in the house that may contain valuable breakables or dangerous items (kitchen knife, laundry bleach).