Introducing your toddler to playdates is well worthwhile. As parents, it’s important we show our children how to socialise with other kids so they learn social skills like cooperation and self-expression - and of course have fun. Giving your toddler opportunities to play with other children could make the transition to nursery and primary school easier, too.
But it’s important to remember that your toddler may not be equipped with the skills and understanding for social play immediately - every child acquires these skills at their own pace. Initially, your toddlers may simply ‘parallel play’ alongside each other perfectly happily, gradually becoming more interested in each other and interacting more closely, giggling, chatting and egging each other on in games.
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Here’s some advice for your toddler’s first playdate:
Prep your toddler (and your home)
Not so they’re jumping off the walls with excitement, but explain who is coming to play and how you would like your child to behave - being kind and welcoming and sharing toys. Double-check your home is child-proofed for a guest who might not know to avoid certain objects.
Keep your first playdate short
An hour and a half is ample time. Arrange a time when your child is at their best; not nearing nap time or just before tea time, when there may be more potential for meltdowns.
But there may be tears - and that’s perfectly normal
It’s not yours, or your child’s fault. Toddlers under the age of three can find sharing a difficult concept to understand initially. If squabbles threaten to disrupt the playdate, step in and use a distraction technique, suggesting a new game or inviting them to stop and have a snack. 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.
Plan for fun
It’s a good idea to set something out as an immediate ice-breaker that enables your toddlers to ease into playing together, like modelling dough with rolling pins and shape cutters. Think of things they can do together. Playing with building blocks, toy cars, kitchen set and selecting outfits from the dressing-up box; all offer ample opportunity for imaginative play with a new toddler playmate.
Don’t leave toddlers alone
You and the other parent may be required to be involved in your children’s play, for example being served toy cups of tea or trundling cars on the floor - or simply act as admiring onlookers, praising and making occasional suggestions. During later playdates, once children are confident in each other’s company, you can step back a bit.
You don’t have to host
Suggesting meeting somewhere neutral like the park or a local soft play centre may be a good option, especially if you think your toddler may find it tricky sharing their possessions with a new playmate, or the other child might feel more confident in a more familiar location.
Talk about the playdate afterwards
Give your child specific praise and talk positively about your child’s new toddler playmate, the fun they had together and what they might like to do next time.
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Advertorial brought to you by Aptamil Growing Up milks.