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Four things to consider when setting up a playdate

girl and boy holding hands

As soon as I heard my toddler dragging her toy box from room to room with the toys slowing spilling on the ground, I knew summer in Arizona had officially set-in. This is our version of “cabin-fever,” too hot to go outside unless there is some kind of water involved, and staying inside is making everyone a little stir-crazy. With a few years of motherhood under my belt and my sanity in question, I started on a quest to cure hot weather boredom and discovered the wonderful idea of playdates.

I originally thought my toddler was too young for playdates with other children her age. Not only was I (thankfully) wrong, it turns out playdating is great for young children’s development. A child explores and makes sense of the world around her through play. It impacts a child’s physical abilities, helps with vocabulary and problem solving and when there are others around, it shows them teamwork and empathy.

Setting up dates for your children to have some fun can surely benefit both child and parent, I put together some tips to consider when seeking the perfect playdate.

1. Go outside the circle.
When choosing children you want your child to have a playtime experience with, try and go beyond the people they see regularly. While a familiar face is good, having your child play with kids they don’t see as often can be beneficial. This helps them establish friends of their own. You can use that to motivate your little one to clean up before friends come over.

2. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
I have two moms in my circle of friends with very different parenting styles. One is what I call a “walk it off mom.” She doesn’t let things get to her and takes a liberal approach to decisions and discipline. My other friend is much stricter and sticks to a consistent plan when parenting. Both very different, both fine, of course. Every child is different and we all have different parenting styles on how to feed, discipline and teach our children. When finding friends for your little one to have playdates with, be open to personalities but conscious of how the children are parented. It’s ok to ask questions about different views on food or how they discipline. Sometimes you find the people that you didn’t expect to have a connection with, parent similar to you and make playdating go much smoother.

3. Point out the rules.
I took my daughter on a playdate at the house of a friend she met in preschool. They didn’t allow shoes to be worn inside their house. This concept did not sit well with my little girl. She could not concentrate on playing and felt the need to walk over to the front door every few minutes to make sure her shoes were still there. Then she would yell, “Shoes here!” each time. Being able to meet with different people for playdates at different locations gave me a great opportunity to talk about rules with my little girl. I was able to explain how rules are followed and some rules are at our house and other rules are at different locations. This was a great set-up for learning rules at preschool.

4. Have fun, structure-ly.
Playdates can happen at any age as long as you plan accordingly. I remember a time when my baby was 8-months old and I set-up a time to meet with a friend and her baby. I and the other mom sat in the living room and placed the babies on the floor. We proceeded to stare at the two littles for 15 minutes until it occurred to me that they didn’t know how to play. For the most part, they have always interacted with adults who brought toys and silly games to them. So I got down on the floor and brought out some toys I knew they would want to look at and proceeded to play. Once they got the hang of interacting, I stepped back a bit. Sometimes playdates happened with my toddler wrapped around my leg the whole time, and that’s ok. If you have some ideas on little art projects or certain games they can play with toys or if they are too little for those, just some specific favorite toys they can learn to share, your dates will have a better chance at fun.

Good luck and have some playdating fun!

Nicole Yezzi is an executive staff assistant at First Things First. You can reach her at nyezzi@firstthingsfirst.org

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