It’s an exciting step into new territory when you and your little one start having play-dates. It’s a great opportunity for a tired mom to chat with another person, who understands what it’s like, and for the children it often means a whole new set of toys to play with! Play-dates are a great opportunity for toddlers to develop their communication skills with their peers, and learn about sharing with others.
But there are also things to think about as well. For mom there is the worry about what the other parent might expect, and for baby there is the change in dynamics with another little person around the place. So how do you schedule the perfect play-date where everyone leaves looking forward to the next one?
Prepare: if your child has a special toy or something they are particularly fond of make sure this is tucked well away before the play-date. That way it won’t be a source of conflict during the time you have guests.
Explain to your child what is happening: it is often useful to role play some sharing activities with them before the play-date takes place.
Child-proof: make sure the house is child-proofed as much as is possible to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Plan snacks: make sure you have some suitable snacks at hand during this time. It’s always worth checking with your guests beforehand to ensure no one has any allergies or food preferences.
The play-date itself:
Little people don’t need to spend too long together.
One to two hours is usually the ideal timeframe for older babies and toddlers. Don’t plan a play-date when you know your child will be hungry or tired. In addition, it’s always sensible to ensure that your children are playing close by and that you can see them at all times.
Sharing is an important part of learning.
If there is one toy that all the children want to play with, be prepared to use a watch and time it so everyone gets a turn.
Plan a simple and fun activity for the children.
There are many great ideas, e.g. dress-up corners, crayons and paper, finger painting or play-dough are terrific for keeping toddlers occupied.
Everybody parents differently and it is important to respect that.
However, if a child is clearly in physical danger or has been hurt by another, then you need to intervene. Remove any objects that are the source of danger and then talk to the parent. Remain calm if your child has been hurt. Try to ensure that both parents are giving the same message to the children about what behaviour is acceptable and what is not.
Always advise the children when the play-date is coming to an end.
10 minutes warning is usually plenty of time – it allows them to start preparing for it. If children know in advance what is going to happen to them, this will often help alleviate awkward meltdowns.
Play-dates will always vary in success, so it is important to be patient and take it slowly. Some children will not want to participate, while others will want to dominate. Be aware of what your child is comfortable with, and operate within those guidelines. Play-dates are an important way to develop relationships for parents and their children, and you will usually be glad you made the effort.