Children under the age of two tend to play side by side, interacting with one another as they would interact with toys. Nevertheless, from infancy on, children benefit from exposure to other children, learning from them and simply enjoying the company of peers. From the age of two on, real interactions are possible. To help your child have happy playtimes:
- Plan ahead. If the playdate is at your home, double-check all your childproofing, since your visitor might be drawn to objects that your child has already learned are off-limits.
- Have constant supervision. Don't expect two lively toddlers to keep out of trouble for even a minute without adult supervision.
- Don't overmanage the playdate. While you need to remain nearby, don't try to direct the play or interfere with minor squabbles if no one is getting hurt. Interceding too soon tells your child that you don't trust her to work out the details of her friendships on her own.
- Plan around nap and feeding schedules. The best time for children to enjoy on another's company is when both are rested and well fed.
- Seek out neutral territory. Many toddlers become territorial in their homes and are able to interact better with their peers in neutral territory such as the local playground.
- Make sharing easier. Try to have duplicates of some items so that children aren't drawn to the same plaything. For instance, if you're taking your child to the playground on her tricycle, suggest that her playmate's parent also have a tricycle on hand. If your child has a special toy that she's not ready to share, put it away until after the playdate.
- Look for playmates with a similar temperament. Your boisterous toddler may have more fun with another ready-to-go kid than she would with a quieter, more subdued child. Likewise, your timid child may feel overwhelmed by a more active playmate.
- Broaden the range of friendships. From time to time, set up playdates with older or younger children to give your toddler the chance to learn from a bigger kid or to teach a younger one.
- Evaluate what works and what doesn't. After a playdate, review what went well and what didn't so you can plan accordingly for the next time.
From The Parents Book of Lists: From Birth to Age Three, by the editors of Parents magazine with Marge Kennedy. Copyright © 2000