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  • Playdate Is a Great Parenting Tool for Your Toddler's Development

    It's never too early for your child to spend time with other kids his or her age.
    by Rachel Perez .
Playdate Is a Great Parenting Tool for Your Toddler's Development
PHOTO BY iStock
  • You are your child's first playmate. Your little one has been learning from your interactions from the moment he laid his eyes on you. But time will come when you need to prepare him to start socializing with kids his age and other people.

    Is your toddler ready to make friends?

    Setting up playdates is a way to introduce your child to other kids. Think of it as attending toddler classes without the fees. Some moms who are longtime friends treat it as starting their kids' lifelong friendships, and they love it because they can catch up while their tots get their social time.

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    How parents can help their toddler make friends

    Many parents sometimes frown at playdates because they're not sure if their toddler is up for it. You'll never know though until you try it. Manage your expectations. Don't expect him to warm up and make friends right away. One playdate isn't going to make two kids the best of friends. Making friends is a trial and error method, even for grownups.

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    Continue playing with your little one.

    Since he's starting to develop his motor skills and vocabulary, your toddler's best playmate is you, so play with your baby. Toddlers ages 18 to 24 months are pretty much selfish, and it's a typical developmental stage. Your tot is excited to explore the world, but he also thinks that it revolves around him. Your job is to show him he needs to learn how to share and how playing with other kids work.

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    Parallel play is crucial.

    It's crucial at this time that kids spend time with other children of the same age, stressed Heather Wittenberg, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in child development. Around age 2 to 3, your child will love to see other little humans like himself. They're not playing together yet, but they'd be sitting together and playing on their own.

    It's called parallel play. Your little one may or may start copying what the other tot is doing. The little ones need guidance, so parents can join to play. Some kids do start interacting with the other child, but they're not yet able to share toys or take turns, so don't force it and keep the playdate short and sweet.

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    Teach manners through play.

    By age 3, your child may be playing the same game together with other kids. This type of play is called an associative play and helps him learn what his peers can do. Your little one may also be more interested in playing with other kids as he's showing more independence.

    Get down on the floor and play with the kids. It's the perfect time to teach kids manners — how them how sharing works, or how taking turns is for everybody's benefit. There may be crying, for sure, so it's also a good time to introduce labeling and managing feelings. Manage your expectations as toddlers won't learn these overnight.

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    Let the kids play unsupervised. 

    Try to leave the children for short amounts of time to help them get used to playing on their own. "Children should be allowed to explore different situations with parental supervision, not interference," said Ann Tan of Gymboree Play and Music Philippines. Being alone with other kids help develops self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, so try not to hover.

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    Parents of 3- to 4-year-olds should allot time when the kids can play and navigate new friendships, even conflicts, on their own, and stepping in only when the conflict escalates. While you and the other child's parent are not actively playing with your child and her playmate, assure them that you're just nearby.

    As with any playdate you set up for your child, always check for safety and security first. Make time for snacks, too. The kids should also be well-rested to minimize any conflict that may arise. If a playdate is not working for the kids, you can always reschedule, but try to end the playdate positively as possible. 

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