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Planning For Your Child's First Playdate

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As your little one grows from a baby to a toddler, you'll want to start thinking about planning his or her first playdate. Kids love to play with other kids, and playdates increase their social development. In those early years before preschool starts, it can be tough to find that kind of interaction - but playdates are an excellent way to encourage entertainment in the meantime.

However, if this is your first child or playdate, you might have a few questions about the process. Here are some planning tips to help you get started:

1. You'll need snacks

Toddlers tend to get cranky without snacks even when they are having a leisurely time at home. During a playdate, they will be even more energetic - and so will your other little guests. Healthy snacks are best - think peanut butter and apples, cheese and crackers, fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grain cereal bars. Be sure to contact parents beforehand to learn of any food sensitivities or restrictions before your playdate! The same goes for pet allergies if you plan to have furry family members running around.  

"Be sure to invite parents to the playdate, too."

2. Make it a social event for the parents, too

They might decline the offer, but it's always a good idea to invite the parents to join in on the playdate. Depending on your toddler guest's temperament, he or she might feel more comfortable with mom or dad around. And, having another set of hands to help with cleaning up or making snacks doesn't hurt, either.

3. Set ground rules for toys

If you have multiple children, then you know the drill. Kids can get quite territorial and emotionally attached to their toys. If your toddler especially loves a few of his toys, it might be best to keep those away during the playdate to avoid fighting. Other toys can be out during playtime to help the kids learn how to share and play together peacefully.

4. Have a game plan

Going into a playdate without some sort of agenda is ill-advised. After all, toddlers need direction or their curious minds will wander all over the place. Whether it's a visit to the zoo, an hour at a local park or a crafting session at home, fun activities help guide the toddlers and make the time pass by a little quicker for you.

5. Let your little ones pick their playdates

It's always best to allow your toddler to pick his or her own playdates. Not only does this allow him or her to become more involved, but it also lets him or her learn the art of playing host to guests.. Also you shouldn't force your toddler to want a playdate. Everyone's social skills develop at different rates, so if your child values alone time more than others, that's OK. The important thing is to let her develop a social life at a pace she is comfortable with.

Toddler playdates need a few ground rules.

6. Keep playdates short, small and sweet

Most playdates involve just one of your child's friends, maybe two. There's only so many toys they all can share, and if you are the only parent overseeing the playdate, having a crowd of cranky toddlers can get overwhelming quickly. Save time and stress and keep things simple and small. Playdates also shouldn't last more than a few hours. Toddlers get notoriously cranky and will need naps after a short amount of time anyway.

7. Talk to other parents

We mentioned getting information about pet and food allergies earlier, but that is just scratching the surface. Obviously every parent has a different philosophy about raising children, and might not approve of every activity you have planned. Be sure to let the other parents know of your itinerary beforehand. And, while you are at it, get their contact information in case your visitor gets sick or an emergency occurs.

8. Communication is key

This is your opportunity to explain to your child how to be a good host, and how to share. Tell him it's important to be respectful to your guests - this is also a good time to teach terms like "please" and "thank you." Explain to the children that they will also have to clean up after themselves after playtime is over. And, to prevent emotional outbursts, let the kids know when the playdate is about to end - about 10 to 15 minutes of notice is usually enough.

Playdates are an essential part of your toddler's development - but they do have their own set of rules you need to abide by. Even with your best efforts, some playdates might not turn out as well as you planned, and that's OK. What's important is that your little one is developing those crucial social skills that will help her later on in preschool. 

 
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