“Playdates” or planned kiddie social get-togethers are getting popular these days - because of increased demand for safety, parents being busy and kids not living in an area or apartment complexes where they can easily and safely pop into each other’s homes for impromptu play.
Playdates are an opportunity for you to see how your child interacts socially, expose her to a variety of activities and sharpen her social and communication skills. Also, playdates with a preschool pal can help children adjust to preschool better. And of course, it is your chance to know some moms or dads and keep a tab on the kiddie happenings.
Some tips for having a hassle-free, fun and fewer-tantrums playdates.
Preparing for the playdate
- Who to call? When? For how long?
- For small children and also for the first playdate, it might be best to have just one playmate. So that they get to know each other well, Three might gang up and one little playmate is easy for you to manage as well. Remember that little children need more caring and “work”.
- Even if your child maybe just 2 or 3 years, involve them in planning the date. Who to call? Ask them and see and then use your judgement.
- It might be best to limit the playdate for 1-2 hours. Little kids do not have a long attention span and after that it can only be diminishing results.
- For young kids and especially for the first playdate, it is best to call the mom as well - the kids and the mom will feel more comfortable. It is your chance to get to know the mom as well. Even if it is a drop-off it might be a good idea to invite the mom for coffee / tea for later.
- Do your homework
- Find out food habits
- Does she like dosa...apples...which biscuits?...
- Food allergies, parents’ attitude toward junk food etc.
- You could have one “safe” item and one different one. This way playdates can be an opportunity to expose kids to different foods with minimum risk.
- Find out play preferences. Does he like trains, blocks etc.?
- Check if the child is toilet trained or needs reminding to go to the bathroom.
- Think about and involve your child in deciding the activities
- Of course, children will change your plan and spontaneity is fun but it helps to be prepared.
- Make sure that you are available during the playdate
- It will be a good idea to have your maid / nanny available as well to help you--clear away toys, prepare snacks etc.
- But you are important. At least for the the first few play dates to ensure the right frame for playdates and this is your opportunity to get to know how your child interacts.
- The exceptions might be if you are very busy and if the nanny is very well trained in dealing with group dynamics of young children (issues like conflict, sharing...)
- Set up the play environment
- Set out a few (2 - 4) toys or activities to get them started.
- Indoor: Good ideas for kids this age are: play-tents, blocks, train set, play tea set or cooking toys, playdoh, trucks, crayons and paper, dress up, etc. They also love things like pouring sand or water. You could improvise these even indoors and the kids will have a blast.
- Outdoor: gardening, sand and water play, running around with a ball etc.
- Hide their very favourite toys. We agree that playdates are all about teaching them sharing and other social skills. But maybe if there is a special toy that your child is sensitive about, it is best that you hide this toy and use other toys first to teach him about sharing.
- Put away toys like puzzles with small pieces that can get lost or mixed up, it might be best to keep them out of reach for such young kids. Your children can play with those when they are by themselves.
- Expose kids to a variety of play materials and try not to reinforce gender biases. Of course, boys and girls naturally gravitate to certain activities but we as parents also play a role in prevent gender stereotypes and exposing our young ones to a variety of skill-building play materials. For example, blocks can teach both boys and girls fine motor skills and foster an aptitude for math. Similarly, a toy tea set can spark interaction and pretend play in both boys and girls and help stimulate imagination and interaction.
- Above all, relax and keep the playdate simple.
- It is okay to have a messy house.
- Do not stress over making a lot of fancy snacks. Kids are happy with biscuits and a fruit as well.
Now it is soon going to be playdate time! An exciting time for you and your child...