My top tip when it comes to taking the kids to a soft play centre is find someone else to take them.
If you’re lucky enough to have parents or parents-in-law who live nearby or an unsuspecting family friend keen to spend quality time with your beloved children, see if you can rope them in.
Soft play has its place, in my experience there are few better places to take the little people when you want them to blow off some steam.
But, let’s be honest, as much as I adore my children, sitting in the middle of a crowd of crazed, red-faced screaming kids who don’t belong to me is never how I aspire to spend my afternoon.
So, if you find yourself loading the children into the back of the car on a wet Wednesday, here are my top tips for survival.
BRING A FRIEND
You know what they say, ‘a trouble shared is a trouble halved’.
If you have another mum friend, co-ordinate your visit so your kids can play together and at least you have some moral support while you’re there.
It means there’s someone to keep an eye on your brood if you need to go to the toilet, or nip out to get something from the car (escape the madness for five minutes).
BE VIGILANT IF YOUR CHILD HAS AN ALLERGY
If your wee one has a food allergy, soft play centres are probably best avoided, unless you’re prepared to follow their every move.
It’s not as difficult, or dangerous, when they’re older but when your little person is at the age where everything goes in their mouth, soft play centres can be more trouble than they’re worth.
My little boy is particularly fond of hoovering up all the remnants of chips and crisps he can find on the floor, and who knows what he tucks into when he’s hiding in the nooks and crannies of the play frame.
It’s stomach-churningly revolting and I wish he wouldn’t do it, but at least it’s not putting him at risk now he’s grown out of his dairy allergy.
ALWAYS WEAR YOUR SHOES IN THE TOILET
Every soft play veteran knows you have to take your shoes off to enjoy time in the frame.
They also know it’s a bad idea to go to the toilet in your sock soles.
I appreciate how much of a hassle it can be to get everyone’s shoes on and off for every single toilet trip, especially if you’ve ignored the first rule of kiddie shoe shopping and opted for laces over Velcro.
But, just think about what happens in there.
No further explanation needed.
AVOID PEAK TIMES
When Donald Tusk came out with his controversial “special place in hell” comment, he was obviously planning on sending the offenders to spend a Saturday afternoon at a soft play centre.
If you’ve ever been to a five-year-old’s birthday party, you know how chaotic they are.
Now multiple that by three or four and add in all the other children who happen to be there at the same time.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE STAFF
You might be forgiven for thinking I would rather pull out my own eyelashes than go to a soft play centre, but the reality is they can be a lifesaver.
My little people love nothing more than swizzing down the slide and making friends with the other tot, while I’ve that when they’re causing mayhem there, they aren’t adding to the mess in my house.
But the real attraction for me, at our local soft play centre anyway, is the staff.
Getting to know them on a personal level means they’ve let me pay for food the following day when I forgot my purse.
In the early days with Ethan, when he was cluster-feeding, they even kept the building open and played with his big sister while I fed my nursling.
Not only that, but they have built such a bond with my children that we can now count on them as babysitters – the beauty being we know they get on with our little people and they are also approved as safe to work with children.
And you can’t get better than that.