Getting the Most Out of a Playdate

Scheduling play dates is now common practice for many parents. Here's how to make the most of these get-togethers.

Nowadays, 2-year-olds' socializing doesn't happen by chance. A generation ago, big families and cousins living around the corner assured most toddlers a ready-made batch of playmates. Parents today -- especially those in cities or more isolated suburbs -- are more likely to help the preschool socializing process along by scheduling regular playdates or organizing playgroups for their toddlers.

This is a good idea, experts say, especially if your child doesn't go to daycare or have siblings close in age that he sees often. But before you begin planning get-togethers for your social-butterfly-to-be, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. First, more is not necessarily better where toddlers are concerned. Keep the gathering small, preferably just two or three children (and not more than six), each accompanied by a parent or caregiver.

If you're scheduling a weekly get-together, be mindful of kids' naptimes and mealtimes. Arrange to meet when they will all be well fed and well rested. Playing with peers can be a delicate experience for 2-year-olds-best undertaken in a cheery mood. Don't let the rendezvous drag on for too long. Plan on spending from 1 1/2 to 2 hours together-plenty of time for the adults to catch up on conversation (but not so much as to overwhelm the toddlers).

One common mistake parents make at such gatherings is to forget why they're there. Often, a mother will be enjoying her own discussion with a friend so much that she won't see her 2-year-old lunging to bite a playmate or repeatedly grabbing another child's toy. You'll need to pay careful attention to your 2-year-old for two reasons. First, at this age, your child still needs a lot of assurance from you, if only in the form of a smile or a nod from across the room. Second, kids this age are highly unpredictable. Though your child may be playing happily with a friend one minute, he may be less than angelic the next. Other parents will look to you to discipline your child for his misbehavior.

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