The secret rules of playgroup

These might just make your life easier...

Editor, Practical Parenting / July 18 2018

I’m a big fan of playgroups. They're a great place to make friends (for you and the kids) and usually, a much-needed change in your daily routine.  For me, it was when Incy Wincy Spider finally failed to rate on my baby daughter’s fun-ometer, that I wheeled her up to a local church hall. The relief was amazing.

 But playgroups are crazy places, with their very own rules and etiquette. It’s a jungle out there and you really do need to know how to handle yourself.


If it’s your first time at a playgroup, find one of these, and introduce yourself. The Alpha Mums are the women who run the playgroup (probably not officially, but nothing happens in there without their consent). They know every one and everyone knows them and their gaggle of kids. They love to show first-timers around and will often introduce you to everyone at break-neck speed.

The Alphas can advise you on how the place really works. Avoid the kid with that funny rash. Don't let your kid near that purple dinosaur toy, everyone gets sick when they touch it and most importantly, get yourself a coffee early, before the bickies run out.

 This information is priceless. Once you know the ‘queen’ of the playgroup, you’ll find questions like, “What do I do if my child’s pooey nappy has leaked on the jumping castle?” sooo much easier to ask.

Don't expect to sit down

Secondly, accept that you will probably not sit down. Ever. If your child is under two, your time will be spent helping him or her from climbing up the slide, eating sand and licking someone else’s snot.  You’ll also have to stop your child barging her way to the craft table and trying to lick the lego when there’s been an unofficial queue for ten minutes. Sometimes you’ll attempt to do this while holding a deep and meaningful conversation with another mum who is also caught in the same position. Your chats will probably go like this...

“My God, you really think he’s cheating on you?...Ruby, that’s not your water bottle. Put it down please.”

“Yes, I found a text on his phone…Max, give the little girl her Peppa Pig back and say sorry for biting it.”

Get a playgroup voice

Mine is the same voice I use when it’s time to leave the playground or we’re in the queue in the supermarket. It’s half pleading, half stern, high-pitched and always a bit too sing-songy to sound natural. You’ll use it when you recycle the sentence, “Remember what I said about sharing the toys, sweetheart” about 50 times an hour. Of course, there is the odd serene mother at playgroup who never uses that voice and whose child always does exactly what he’s told. Try and befriend this mum and discover her secret – then make a fortune by selling it on.

 Find the oblivious mum

There’s always one. This is the mother whose kid could be grinding rice cakes into the eyes of another child, but she’s sitting, chatting completely unaware of the carnage her little one is causing. I've watched a little boy sit in the ball pit and use a plastic frying pan as a tennis racket. With a serve that would make Federer wince, he was whacking balls at my daughter. At first I asked him to be careful (in my playgroup voice). Then, as a powerful volley whistled past my ear, I asked where his mum was. Turns out she was too engrossed in her coffee to notice. Part of me was jealous.

 The greatest rule

And so to perhaps the greatest law of playgroup, what do you do if another child hurts your kid? This is the tricky one. My technique? Console your child and gently tell the other kid that it’s not nice to hit. Then look around for his/her mum and use the phrase, ‘I’m sure it was an accident but little Stevie has hit my daughter. She’s a bit upset but God, it’s so tough when this happens isn’t it?’ Whatever you do, don’t tell off the offending child, lose your temper or demand an apology. Why? Because next week it will be your child who’s hitting them round the ear with Mr Potato Head. That’s just the rule of play group.





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