Tips for a Great Toddler Playdate

Get ready to socialize

These days, playdates with toddlers and young children run the gamut—from the no-frills park meet up to kiddie crafting bonanzas. Either way, for young children, particularly if they are not in a daycare or school setting yet, playdates are a great way to introduce them to different social situations and to help them learn and practice the social skills they will need throughout their life, like communication, sharing, and navigating tricky interactions with all kinds of people.

Playdates are important for parents too. For parents who stay home with their young children, a playdate means an opportunity to interact with another adult and potentially make a friend. It’s an opportunity to compare notes, commiserate, and generally socialize, making the sometimes rocky toddler years a little less lonely.

If you’ve hesitated to get out there and plan playdates with new friends, here are a few tips to get you started.

Put Yourself Out There

Sydney Bourne

Here’s the good news: Becoming a parent is one of the (perhaps rare) points in adult life when otherwise settled individuals are open to meeting and connecting with new friends who share something in common—a young child. Here’s the bad news: It can feel a little like dating.

hat doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it though. Whether you're an introvert and an extrovert, there are plenty of ways to connect with moms and dads of toddlers in your area. Research local parenting groups and frequent parks and other toddler “hotspots” around town, both online and off, as a place to start, and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a parent who has a child who appears to be close in age to yours. They are likely looking for someone to talk to as well. Once you’ve established a connection, it’s time to set up a playdate.

Determine the Type of Playdate

When it comes to playdates for toddlers, simple is often best. These meet-ups can take place at your home or someone else’s, or at a local playground, play café, or coffee shop that’s family friendly. Determining what is right for you probably depends on whom the playdate is with, how long you’ve known them, and what you know about how your toddler plays with other children.

For families you’ve just met, a park or other local kid-friendly spot is a good place for a playdate and can help you get to know one another better on neutral turf. For families you know, having them over to your home may allow everyone the chance to socialize more. How much planning you want to put into your playdate probably depends on how you like to structure your own child’s playtime. If you love planning arts and crafts activities for your child, there’s no reason why you can’t plan something similar for your toddler’s playdate. You can always ask the other parents if their toddler enjoys crafts or other projects. But a planned activity is by no means necessary. In fact, sometimes the simpler the playdate, the better. Just have your new toddler friend come over to play! 

Have Child-Friendly Food Available

Whatever you decide to do—and regardless of whether you are hosting, meeting at a public location, or heading to a friend’s house—have food available. If you’re meeting at a neutral spot, just bring enough snacks to keep your toddler from getting cranky. If you’re heading to a friend’s home or having people over, consider having snacks that will keep both the kids and mom or dad happy. Remember to ask about allergies. In general, shareable and easy food like mini-muffins, fruit, and crackers are great and easy options. 

Plan Around Nap Times

In order to have a successful playdate your toddler must be well-rested and kept on his or her schedule. This is especially important if you’re taking your toddler to an unfamiliar home. Make sure you plan your playdate so it doesn’t interfere with normal nap or meal times (unless you plan to eat a meal during the playdate). This will help ensure that squabbles over toys and other tantrums will be kept to a minimum.

Remove Any Special Toys

With toddlers, special toys (such as lovey’s or other stuffed animals that are regularly carried with them) can be particularly tricky during playdates. These toys can often cause strife between toddlers when a new friend unknowingly starts playing with them (and doesn’t understand how to share or that it’s "special"). An easy way to avoid this type of situation is to remove the toy from the play area during the playdate. Once your toddler’s friend is gone, he can have his toy back.

Remember, Toddlers May Not Actually Play Together

Remember, at the age of 2, it’s totally normal for toddlers to engage in what's called "parallel play." Parallel play is a form of play in which children play adjacent to each other but do not try to influence one another's behavior. Children usually play alone during parallel play but are interested in what other children are doing. This usually occurs after the first birthday. So if your little ones are playing near each other, but not with each other, there’s no reason to be concerned—in fact, this is how they learn to socialize. Just let them be and enjoy the relative peace. 

Be Prepared for Some Bumps

Young children are just learning socially appropriate behaviors and how to interact with their peers. At this age, sharing is not developmentally appropriate so be prepared to manage some arguments over toys. In addition, the toddler stage is tricky. hitting, meltdowns, tantrums, and shyness are not uncommon and might happen in front of your new friends. Be prepared to handle these types of situations with your little one if they occur. And keep in mind, there's nothing to be embarrassed about your toddler acting like a toddler. 

Remember: It's Not a Competition

It’s easy when you have a young child to compare notes with other parents, but try not to get into a situation where you one-up each other on developmental milestones. Nothing kills the fun of a playdate faster—at least for mom or dad—than a few rounds of “my toddler is smarter than your toddler.”

Focus the adult socializing on supporting each other through the trials and tribulations of parenting a toddler. Try trading tips on sleeping, getting picky eaters to try new foods, and diffusing tantrums, or try to find common ground that isn’t about your children. With any luck, you and your toddler will both make a new friend and have lots of playdates to look forward to. 

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