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Play dates have become increasingly popular in the modern age. In past generations, seeking a companion for play just meant running outside into the neighbourhood ground and there everyone was! Unfortunately, the nuclear family setup and an increase in high rise apartment buildings has led to play dates becoming more of a necessity for today’s kids.
A generation ago, play dates were probably unheard of, and people would stare at you if you wanted a ‘date’ for your toddler! But previous generations had the luxury of extended families, large neighbourhoods with playgrounds and many siblings. These days, with nuclear families becoming the norm and couples opting to have only children, play dates are more of a necessity than an option. And the best time to start arranging play dates is when your child is a toddler, since this is when their minds are really opening up to friends and the outside world.
What is a Play Date?
A play date is basically a get together of kids, usually of the same or similar ages. It is usually held at one of the parents’ homes, but it can also be held in a public place like a park, depending upon the parents’ preferences and the weather.
So are play dates for toddlers really necessary? Experts say that toddlers usually engage in parallel play when put in a group, that is they just play alongside each other, but not necessarily ‘with’ each other. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy another child’s company – kids of all ages benefit from having company and some ways in which this happens are:
- Improves Social Skills – Toddlers get to see new faces and learn how to deal with strangers – both kids and adults. They get over their inhibitions and become more open.
- Improves Language and Speech Development – Even if toddlers go to playschool, having a play date over at their home still helps to improve their speech, probably because they’re in a more familiar environment.
- Learns to Share – Toddlers are notorious for not sharing! Sharing is a skill that develops gradually, and having to play with a common pool of toys with another child hastens the process.
- Lowered Stress – Toddlers and stress? Yes, even toddlers have stress – probably from a new sibling, moving home, or an ill family member. Playing with a friend helps them to manage such feelings better.
- More Activity – If the play date is outside, like in a park, toddlers are more likely to get active and move around if they have someone to race with, rather than if they’re by themselves.
- Eat better – If the play date includes snacks, you’ll find that most children will eat foods they usually reject, when they’re in company of friends.
Tips For Organizing a Play Date For Kids
1. Keep a flexible schedule
With toddlers, asking them to come on the dot of 11:00 is not going to work, so keep a time frame, like between 11:00 and 11:30 or so.
2. Settle the parents’ role
Some play dates involve parents too, where they watch over the kids playing and bond with the other moms. If you don’t have the facility for this, specify it in advance.
3. Set a time limit
Just as you set a schedule, you also need to keep an upper limit for the play date. Making it too short or too long can defeat the purpose of the play date. Somewhere between 1 and 2 hours is ideal, but it really depends upon the kids.
4. Arrange for snacks
That is, if you’re planning to. Or else you can just ask the moms to send something with their kids. If you’re doing the arranging, ask ahead about allergies or dietary restrictions.
5. Child proof the play area
You’ll probably have a designated space for the kids to spread out their toys and play. Keep it safe so that you’re not running after them all the time, worried about dangling wires or open sockets.
6. Have variety on hand
Of not just toys, though of course, that is high priority! Keep lots of paper and crayons ready for some quiet time. Ask moms if they’re okay with any DVDs that you’re planning to show the kids. Keep away your toddler’s favourite toys to avoid tantrums.
7. Keep a first aid kit ready
Toddlers are unpredictable and anything can happen at any time. Keep some bandaid and basics on hand, but don’t administer any medication by yourself. If the mom is present, she can make that decision.
8. Intervene only if necessary
Like all kids, toddlers in close quarters playing with the same toys are bound to have some drama of their own. As far as possible, try to sit it out; they’ll probably just leave it. But if one child is pinching or kicking the other, you’ll have to step in and separate them. Avoid giving other kids a time out; their parents might not like it.
Of course, hosting a play date at your home automatically means that you’ll also be a visitor at some other time. Here are a few tips to be a good play date guest:
- Try to stick to the specified timings as best as you can
- Make sure your toddler has eaten, napped and gone potty before you leave.
- Enquire about snacks, entertainment, pets, and whether you’re allowed!
- Take along something for the Mom hosting the play date, something small that she’ll appreciate, like some homemade goodies.
It’s important not to stress about a play date too much; it’s for having fun, after all!! As long as your child is safe and happy, there’s nothing to worry about, and you can relax and have a good time yourself!