This past year hasn’t been the easiest for parents of young children. Days that would normally be spent at a park, the museum or hanging out with friends suddenly stopped, leaving parents at home for days on end wondering how to entertain their little ones. The good news is: Playdates are back! And after a year of minimal socialization with others, they’re more important than ever — not only for little ones, but for parents, too.
After so much time off, even the play-date pros might be wondering about the best way to begin having playdates again. The important thing to remember is: There are no steadfast rules for hosting a playdate. The goal is to have your child exposed to other children and new environments, where they are able to have fun and explore in a safe manner.
Playdates by Ages
Believe it or not, even babies can have playdates. As soon as your child can sit independently, they are ready for a playdate. Playdates at this stage usually consist of sitting on the floor, with mom or dad close by, while they explore the world around them with their eyes, hands and mouths. Developmentally, don’t expect your child to actually play with other children at this time. Just know that being around others at this age is good for their growth.
When children are around 1 to 2 years old, they will engage in what early childhood experts call “parallel play.” This means that children will play next to each other, but they might not directly engage with one another. At this age, it’s good to limit play groups to four or five kids. Any more, and it might become too stimulating.
Once children reach 3 years old, you will start to see more interactive play. At this point, parents can arrange to have drop-off playdates. But you might want to keep the numbers low for safety reasons. Some children will be ready for a drop-off playdate, and others might need more time to warm up. If you are planning to drop your child off and they aren’t familiar with the home, you might want to plan a shorter playdate the first time, and plan to stay for the duration to help them become more comfortable.
Hosting a Playdate
There’s no one right way to host a playdate. However, these tips might help you arrange a playdate that everyone will enjoy:
- Plan the playdate around nap schedules and meal times. There is no quicker way to ensure meltdown than to have a room filled with tired and “hangry” children.
- If you are planning to offer a snack, be sure to check on allergies.
- If your child is struggling with sharing, allow them to pick one or two favorite toys to put away before the guests arrive. Then, use the opportunity to discuss how the other toys will be shared with their friends.
- If it is a drop-off playdate, discuss comfort with screen time, and be sure to get emergency contact information.
- Have one or two activities on hand. This can be as simple as doing chalk outdoors, dancing, coloring, an age-appropriate craft, or a snack the kids can help make or put together.
- Give a 10-minute warning before the playdate is about to end, and ask the kids to help pick-up some of the things they played with.
- Kids can have bad days. If you plan everything and still end up with crying children, don’t take it personally. It’s just part of life with little ones.
Being a Good playdate Guest
When it’s your and your child’s turn to be the playdate guest, these tips will come in handy:
- Arrive on time and pick up on time. If you’re running late, be sure to let the host know.
- Keep the children’s ages in mind and don’t overstay. An hour is a good starting point for babies and toddlers.
- For the bigger kids, be sure to emphasize the importance of manners, and have them help pick up before leaving.
- Ask if there is anything you can contribute before arriving.
- Make sure you come with anything special your child may need to make them comfortable: a special stuffed animal or blanket, pacifier, bottle, diapers, etc.
Playdates are great tools for little ones to grow, and can be great social outlets for mom and dad, too. Remember, your child isn’t expecting a Pinterest-worthy playdate. If everything doesn’t go exactly as planned … well, that’s just life with ones, isn’t it?