THE Ultimate Play Group Survival Guide

In Parenting by Jen43 Comments

Yesterday I took my 1 year old daughter Anneliese to a play group that is hosted by a local community organization. I have been attending play groups such as this and ones in people’s homes for 13 years now. I have become a seasoned pro at navigating these events, yet every once in a while something will happen at a play group that throws me a curve ball.

Like what happened yesterday.

Typically, upon entering a play group I scan the room and generally steer my children in a certain direction where it would appear the children are playing well and most importantly, the parents are interacting with the children.

Fifteen minutes in and all was going well as she and I sat putting puzzles together with another little toddler. My daughter stood up to go and get another puzzle for her and her new found friend to play with and as she did so a little boy several years her senior approached her. She looked up at him and smiled. In return for her smile, he punched her hard in the stomach.


I jumped up and ran over to my daughter who was now keeled over and crying on the floor. The little boy looked down at her and saw an opening and was about to punch her again as I stopped his hand mid punch. His mother finally looked over in our direction at this point and told her son to play nice. I informed the mother he had punched my daughter and had tried to do it again a second time and that he would need to keep his distance from her for the rest of the time we remained in attendance. Her response was to begin talking in a baby voice to her son and to tell him “hitting was not nice”. She then returned to talking with her friends and left this much older kid to run amok through the play group. After many years of attending play groups I have learned when it is worth it to continue talking and when to save my breath and move on. This was one of those cases.

Children being children, next week my toddler could be best friends with this little guy who hit her and I realize that as Mothers we can’t judge where someone else is coming from. I can however come prepared to help make play groups a positive experience for my child(ren). I would also hope that other mother’s like this one I interacted with would follow a few very important play group rules.

1. Make sure that you attend age appropriate play groups.

By doing so you typically will find children with the same developmental skill-sets and abilities. Introducing an older child to a “babies” playgroup is generally a recipe for failure. As the older child will be bored and find less than satisfactory ways of entertaining themselves. If you have multiples I would suggest finding a support system of people who you can swap with for play groups that do not match the age or interests of your other children.

2. Watch Your child.

This should be a no brainer, but make sure you actually watch your child. You know your child better than anyone else and you know their tendencies. For example if they are obsessed with trucks and the play group you are at has only 1 truck for 5 children to play with, this could cause a problem. You can instead use this opportunity to help teach your child to share and learn some important social skills.

Also if little Tommy has taken to biting lately, you really are going to want to watch him to make sure others don’t get hurt.

I do however want to point out that I have been crazy starved for adult interaction and I know that play groups like this are important for both the caregivers and children. I am not trying to be harsh, but it is possible to both interact with adults and watch your children to ensure a positive play group experience.

3. Be courteous.

If the play group is at someone’s home, don’t leave a mess. Cleaning up teaches your child valuable lessons and makes it more likely that you will also be invited back for a second time. In addition don’t arrive late or overstay your welcome. I have hosted some play groups where I thought one or more of the parents were going to try and move in!

4. Watch the cues your child gives you.

I have learned quite a bit from watching my children. If my child is hesitant or scared around another child then I take notice right away. Sometimes this can be explained by shyness, that I can help them work through, but sometimes their hesitancy can be due to the fact my child just doesn’t trust this other child and I should watch what is going on.

And most importantly, one steadfast rule I have ALWAYS adhered to: Tired and fussy children should be taken out of play groups even if that means leaving early. People will understand and appreciate it. This gets a little tricky if you are hosting the play group, but removing your child for a while is still a good idea.

5. The best play groups involve play mixed in with activities.

It’s a good idea to mix things up. Read a story sing some songs, allow kids free play and then bring them back for another short activity. Doing this keeps kiddos happy and less likely to cause boredom related issues.

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

As I said kids are kids. They have to learn how to play with others. Sometimes they will do this well and sometimes not so well. Barring any physical danger, I have allowed children to squabble over a toy to see how they would handle it. I will however take a child out who is behaving badly. This ensures that for the next play group they understand those behaviors which are allowed and those which are not.

What other guidelines have you found that work?

P.S. Little slugger had an “unfortunate” run in with a wall and some chairs just a few minutes after our unpleasant little interchange. I guess what they say about karma is true.

Stay Happy! Stay Informed!



Go ahead and share this post, you know you want to!


  1. Jen, I think I would have gone mental on that mom. Seriously, her kid punched your daughter and her reaction was more then bizarre but just plain wrong. Wonderful tips, but you truly are a better person then me as there is no way I would have b en able to walk away without a fight on that one.
    Janine Huldie recently posted…Guilty As ChargedMy Profile

  2. A little bully in our play group. Yikes. Mommy isn’t going to help him either. She’s going to do the baby voice and then ignore the issue. I’ve seen this before. Bless her heart.

    You’ve got some great guidelines. You’re a good mom and it shows.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺
    Comedy Plus recently posted…Silly SundayMy Profile

    1. Author

      The baby voice when correcting a child is like nails on a chalkboard for me! Now I’m not a screamer either and I do use baby talk, but please don’t use baby talk when a solid and commanding voice would do the job!

      Stepping off my soap box now……. Thanks for the compliment btw, I am working on being the kind of mom I want to be :)
      Jen recently posted…THE Ultimate Play Group Survival GuideMy Profile

  3. I have a friend that used to tell her children, “If you tell a lie, God is listening and will punish you in his own way” and every time the girls told fabrications, without fail, they would turn around and walk smack into the wall.
    Great information for keeping your sanity at play groups.

    Thank you for tossing your hat into the ring at the Party Under The Big Top! We hope to see you again next week! #BigTopBlogParty
    Mary Burris recently posted…Love Songs: Love Is All AroundMy Profile

  4. Wow, I have never had a kid punch my child. I would have been so mad. I don’t do a ton of playgroups now that my kids are older. However, we go to the park everyday after school and I have to watch out for my three-year-old because some of my daughter’s friends will try to be rough with him. These are great tips!
    Melissa recently posted…10 Life Skills To Teach Your ChildrenMy Profile

  5. 3 kids: 11, 7, and 4 and I’ve never done a playgroup! Huh! I’ve obviously heard of this phenomenon, but just never got into it. Probably because I work full time, but also because we started having kids ahead of most of my friends. Now they are getting started and my kids are too old for them.
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…Kids: The Owner’s Manual is MissingMy Profile

  6. Hi Jen, nice to see that what goes around comes around!

    Playgroups are great places for children and parents/caregivers to interact, but unfortunately there will always be the Mum who is happy to let other Mum’s lookout for their child or who thinks their child is an ‘angel’.

    You’ve outlined some fab guidelines. If everyone followed them, playgroups would be pleasurable every time….

    PS…I’m not sure wild horses could get me to walk into a playgroup now. Shudder!
    Debbie recently posted…When Did I Start Opting For The Lazy Workout?My Profile

  7. Holy cow. I gasped out loud. I don’t know what I’d do if this happened, but something along the lines of yelling, “you little sh*t! Does anyone at all parent you?” might have gone through my head.
    I love your guide. You should submit it somewhere. Honestly. I think a lot of parents would love this.
    Tamara recently posted…You’re a Wizard, Harry!My Profile

    1. Author

      Oh that was almost tame in comparison to the kid that once tried to ride over my baby as he slept in his car seat (multiple times might I add). I finally just took the bike and put it away, even though it was not my house……
      Jen recently posted…THE Ultimate Play Group Survival GuideMy Profile

  8. I was once in the middle of a situation like that. I was the playdate host. One of the invitees had a sone who was, shall we say rambunctious?? Another friend had a smaller daughter who always seemed to be the boy’s target. I quickly realized that this combination wasn’t going to work. These are some great tips!
    Lisa @ The Golden Spoons recently posted…When Busy Gets In the WayMy Profile

    1. Author

      Sometimes it just doesn’t work and you were one smart cookie to pick up on that. When play groups work they are marvelous, but when they don’t they really, really stink :)
      Jen recently posted…My First Ask Away Friday!My Profile

  9. Thank you for these! It is like you read my mind. My two littles play so nice together and are super close, but when the 3-year-old starts Pre-School next year I would love to have some established friends for my daughter to play with. I am so hesitant and overwhelmed by “play groups.” Hopefully I can follow these steps and we will be alright, although, step 7 should be, Teach Your Toddler A Mean Uppercut. (Totally KIDDING!)
    Lauren Holt recently posted…Richard Petty Driving Experience: Get Your Need For Speed Before It’s Too LateMy Profile

    1. Author

      My husband wholeheartedly agrees! That is one of the first things he teaches the kids once they get older. So go ahead and teach it and stick to the other rules and you will be just fine at play groups :)
      Jen recently posted…My First Ask Away Friday!My Profile

  10. Hi Jen,

    Sorry for the late response, I’ve been having some health “issues” I am hardly surprised by the action of “other peoples’ children” much anymore. After all I have been a Mommy for 26 years next week and thought I had seen or heard it all. This however surprised me! What a horrible little monster to punch a baby like that and then to proceed to hit her again when she was down is crazy! My heart feels sorry for him as he is obviously ignored by his Mom and the baby talk is one if not the number one pet peeve, nails down the chalkboard things about some parents out there. Makes you wonder by who and how many times he was witnessed such violence first hand because at his age it is a learned behavior.

    I have a temper especially when it comes to my kids and my grandkids, just ask my grandson’s elementary school principal lol, and I would not have been able to control it if a child did that to my daughter and the Mom responded that way! Are you even kidding me! Kuddos to you my friend! I would have been so upset if it was my child and would have apologized over and over again to the other parent and the child that was hit making sure she was okay and my son would have been nose first in the first corner I saw with an incredibly stern talking to on the way there! But, that’s just me and none of my kids have ever done anything like that to another child, well siblings don’t count right?!?!?

    Great tips/advice for all parents who participate in play group’s and hopefully a few parents will learn a few things from this post! You should totally print out your “Ultimate Play Group Survival Guide” part and put it under that Mom’s windshield next week! ;-) Just a thought! lol

    Oh and thanks for stopping by and taking part in the Party Under the Big Top! As a matter of fact I just checked InLinkz and your post has won this week as the most viewed post at the party! Next Tuesday “Ultimate Play Group Survival Guide” will be our Featured Act in the Center Ring! Congrats, I’m so thrilled you won! If you have any questions let me know!

    Much love,

    Lysa xx
    Welcome to My Circus
    Lysa recently posted…My First Winter in Iowa ~ A blonde mixed with snow and ice = funny disaster!My Profile

    1. Author

      Oh no I am sorry to hear about your health. I hate when one of my friends are sick!!

      I like your idea of taping it under her windshield. Maybe I should do that next week, if we go. Hopefully Anneliese doesn’t have any lingering PTSD from the experience.

      I have a temper too and especially when I feel like one of my children has been hurt. I was very glad indeed to see the little boy get a taste of karma…

      Would love to hear the grandson and principal story some day.
      Jen recently posted…My First Ask Away Friday!My Profile

  11. You seemed to handle the situation well. I haven’t been to a playgroup in quite some time, because it is really hard to get out of the house with my girls at these ages. These are great tips that I will remember when I go to the next playgroup! Pinned!
    Charlee Anne recently posted…Money Saving Spice Cabinet SolutionsMy Profile

  12. Pingback: Party Under the Big Top ~ Act 2 ~ A Blog Party

  13. I thought I would just give it a good shot about having enough children so they can play with themselves and avoid the play group. My husband disagreed so now instead my daughter invites all the neighborhood kids to just come to our house and tag team on my son because most of them are girls.
    becka recently posted…The Public School to Home School TransitionMy Profile

  14. Author

    I did the same thing, but when the caboose baby came she kind of blew that plan up. She is happy as a lark when they are home, but during the day when it is just her and I she is less than enamored of that and misses her siblings. So I do try a few play groups. maybe a few more slugs to the gut and she will be done with them completely….
    Jen recently posted…To Ban Or Not To Ban Yoga Pants?My Profile

Leave a Comment