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How To Politely Decline A Playdate During Social Distancing, According To Experts

by Cat Bowen

With all states at some level of reopening, many parents are considering how their children might safely interact with kids outside of their immediate family. Some parents just aren't ready -- and that's OK. If this is you, you'll want to know how to politely decline a playdate if you're feeling uncomfortable, without shaming the other parent.

This is a delicate situation, and one that I've already encountered. You see, I am naturally a more nervous person. I was practically bathing in a pool of hand soap and sanitizer long before it became a necessary part of life. I changed cars on the train if someone was coughing well before coughing was a COVID symptom. That's just me. So when some restrictions were lifted and we started getting invitations for playdates and trips to the brewery, I did not hesitate — I declined every offer. However, I probably could have used more tact than saying, "Yeah, that's going to be a hard no from me."

I know that most people are going to start becoming more comfortable with the idea of being around other humans. I need to accept this, and not get judgmental. Everyone has been cooped up, and most of them are worried as well. While they're seeking some semblance of safe normalcy to cool their concerns, I have yet to come out of my cocoon. That doesn't mean I can't be gracious and kind about it. Psychology Today reported that while it may be surprising to see people ignore social distancing recommendations, the why behind their choices isn't always as shocking as you think. They may be overgeneralizing the harm of the disease, they may have been lulled into a false sense of security, or they may feel pressured by others to get together. Basically, there's a lot at play, and it's not so black-and-white of a decision to make.

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So right now is not the time for abrupt dismissals between friends. Nicole Arzt, licensed marriage and family therapist and self-proclaimed "mom who's very much practicing socially distancing," tells Romper that you should "say no," with or without offering a reason, but you could suggest an alternative. She says that while being polite is important, "You have to learn to identify your boundaries and stick to them. True friends will respect your feelings."

Etiquette experts Sarah Davis and Evie Granville, authors of the forthcoming book Modern Manners for Moms & Dads: Practical Parenting Solutions for Sticky Social Situations, agree with Arzt. "Safety always trumps social obligation, so if you're not ready to jump back into playdates, you should be honest," they advise. Sure, you might not want to tell the person who invited you that you aren't interesting in catching the plague and the idea alone makes you want to spray yourself with Lysol (no matter how tempted you are to do so), but you can be straight with them.

They tell Romper that a big part of understanding how to politely decline a playdate during social distancing is being prepared. "We recommend having specific language ready to go" — a canned response, as it were. They say an example is something like, "We'd love to have a visit, but we're still social distancing and not yet visiting with friends. Thanks for thinking of us though. We're really looking forward to seeing you in person again soon." It's kind, it's tactful, but it gets to the point.

And if you're worried that declining a playdate will cause a riff between you and your friend, well, just remember your own mom's advice: they were never really your friend to begin with, were they?

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.


Nicole Arzt, licensed marriage and family therapist

Sarah Davis, Ed.D. and Evie Granville, M.Ed., authors of Modern Manners for Moms & Dads: Practical Parenting Solutions for Sticky Social Situations