A play date is your child’s first lesson in friendship, social manners and sharing. There is no best age for a first play date although it’s usually common for children to have their first one between 18 months and two years old.
How do you know when your child is ready for a play date? Look for indicators such as the ability to engage in play for a prolonged period of time and the desire to communicate with people. Do you see your toddler wanting to speak to the characters in television shows or strangers at restaurants? I knew my daughter was ready for her first play date when I saw her trying to get a toddler’s attention at a bookstore by offering her books and toys.
Once you’ve decided your child is ready, here’s a checklist to help you prepare for a successful first play date.
1. Invite someone familiar. It’s best to invite your child’s friend from the playground, a familiar cousin or a child of one of your best friends for a first play date. It would even be better if you can invite someone with a similar personality to your child’s. Don’t invite more than one child as it can be overwhelming for a first play date.
2. Schedule smartly. The best time to have the play date is after both kids have had their naps. Also, make sure neither of the kids are feeling under the weather, since even a slight cough could easily be passed on to his playmate. Postpone the play date to another time if he or his playmate is under the weather.
You also don’t want to deal with a couple of cranky toddlers. Keep the play date short. One hour is ideal. If you decide to extend, a half an hour to an hour more is okay.
3. Pick the right venue. It’s best to have the play date in the comfort of your home. Make sure you get it ready by keeping breakable items out of reach and moving furniture with sharp edges out of the room. If you have pets, keep them out of the room as well.
4. Plan the activities. You can opt to keep it simple by putting out a variety of toys and allowing the children free play. Make sure the toys have no small parts that can easily become a choking hazard. Ask your toddler what toys he is willing to share, as he may want to keep his favorite ones out of sight. Other fun activities you can prepare as back-up are finger painting, crayons and coloring books and building blocks. Get your toddler involved in the planning - he’d be more willing to cooperate during the play date if he had a hand in the preparation.
5. Prepare large bins. It’s also a good time to teach the art of cleaning up after play. Have large bins available for the kids to store the toys after play time.
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6. Have snacks ready. Prepare cookies, crackers or cheese slices they can nibble on when they get hungry and milk or juice when they get thirsty. Make sure you are aware of any allergies your child’s playmate may have so you can plan the right snacks accordingly.
7. Check appropriate discipline style. It’s always a good idea to check how your child’s playmate is disciplined by his parents. Don’t assume that you can discipline him the same way you discipline your child.
8. Prep your child. Explain to your child what he can expect from the play date. Tell him what will happen, encourage him to share and have fun. It’s always good manners for your child to greet his playmate’s mom properly. You can do role-playing to practice.
9. Have a timer ready. When a tug of war commences and the kids don’t want to share, bring out the timer. Teach both kids how to take turns by setting the timer so one child can have time to play with the toy before turning it over to his playmate. The timer can also come in handy when it’s time to give the kids a 10-minute warning before the play date ends.
10. Be ready for surprises. Have diapers and change of clothing ready. If your child’s playmate suddenly erupts into a terrible tantrum, make sure you can contact his mom. Have also all important contact numbers on hand in case there is an emergency. It’s best to always be prepared.