By the age of 2, most children are ready and eager for some regular play time with others their age. During her time together with another child, your 2-year-old can develop a sense of personal identity by comparing herself and her family to others. She can begin to learn the push and pull of friendship as she sharpens her communication skills. And, of course, she'll have fun. Here are some ways you can help:
- Prepare in advance for the playdate. Make sure your child is well rested and not hungry. If the date is at your home, double check that the play area is childproofed for your young visitor, not just your own child who may know what's touchable and what's not. Plan for your constant supervision, since wide-awake 2-year-olds should not be left alone for even a few moments.
- Make sharing easier. Provide multiple toys and toys that are easy to share.
- Make your playdate guest feel comfortable. Most 2-year-olds still want their parents or regular caregivers to stay with them on a playdate, even if they are very familiar with you, your child, and your home. If it raises the comfort level of the get-together, encourage the visiting grownup to stay. If squabbles threaten to disrupt the playdate, step in to change the activity. If that doesn't work, don't punish your child for not playing "nicely" but remove him from the fun for a few minutes so he can calm down and then go back and try again.
- Step back. When your 2-year-old becomes familiar with her new playmate, it's time to step back a bit. As long as no one is getting hurt either physically or emotionally, let the children play and engage in some squabbling without constant hovering and intrusion. This tells your child that you trust her to solve minor disagreements by herself and that she doesn't always need to look to you to intervene in her growing social life.
- Broaden the range of friendships. From time to time, invite an older child to play with your 2-year-old. While two 5-year-olds would likely balk at having to entertain a 2-year-old, one-on-one mixed-aged playdates offer something positive to each other. Your younger child gets to learn more of the ways of the world of play, and the older child gets to show off his advanced abilities and to hone his nurturing skills. Just as with same-age playdates, it's important for an adult to be ever present during these get-togethers.
- Evaluate the good and the bad. After each playdate, take time to think over the event. What activities should you repeat next time? Which ones should be dropped? Do the children enjoy coloring and painting or running and jumping? Plan to structure your next playdate accordingly.
From The Parents Answer Book: From Birth Through Age Five, by the editors of Parents Magazine. Copyright © 2000.