Playdates can be a great way to add some variety to your toddler's everyday routine. Not only can playdates help your toddler with her social skills, but it can also aid in her developing sense of personal identity. As well, despite the appearance of being unsociable towards each other, toddlers can actually form very close relationships with each other at this age.

Playing Together
Many parents of toddlers have noticed how their child doesn’t really seem to play with other children so much as play beside them. It is perfectly normal and common for toddlers to engage in parallel play rather than interactive play. While this behavior may seem somewhat anti-social to adults, parallel play is actually a form of very social toddler behavior.

During parallel play, your toddler will look to mimic what his companion is doing. If Suzie is playing with a truck, then your little son will want to play with a truck. Unfortunately, he will likely want to play with the actual truck that Suzie is playing with and will grab it right out of her hands in order to do so. As rude as it may seem, it is all just a part of typical toddler interaction.

When you see your toddler grabbing toys from her friends, resist your initial reaction to rush over and step in. Often, toddlers either ignore the behavior or are able to settle their differences in their own unique way. However, if one toddler becomes noticeably aggressive, either hitting or biting, then it is time to step in and smooth things over.

In order to minimize snatching, consider putting out similar toys. Having a few trucks, blocks, stuffed toys and dolls that both children can pick up and play with will make it easier for them to nicely mimic each other. Hiding your toddler’s favorite toy before a playdate may also help him feel more willing to share the other toys that are out. Just be sure to explain to that, since Thomas the Tank Engine has been put away, all the other toys are for him and his companion to play with nicely.

Setting Things Up
When you’re hosting a playdate, be sure to double-check all the child proofing in your home. While your toddler may be aware of what is safe to touch in your home, an outside toddler won’t be. Alternatively, you could limit the playdate to one room in your home, blocking off possible escape routes to other parts of your home. But remember, toddlers should always be supervised. Two unsupervised toddlers can very quickly get into a lot more trouble than one can.

When your guest arrives, spend some time playing with both toddlers so that they can become acquainted with one another. You can encourage sharing and co-operation by doing an activity that requires taking turns. Putting together a simple puzzle or picking blocks out of a bucket are always popular. But even if the toddlers play nicely while you are there, don’t assume that this type of behavior will continue once you walk away.

Here are some other playdate tips to keep in mind when you’re organizing a social event for your toddler:

  • Schedule the playdate for a time when your child won’t be hungry or tired since both can result in a cranky and unpleasant child.

  • Look to make playdates with toddlers that have a similar temperament to yours. Also, consider varying things a bit by scheduling the occasional get together with an older or younger child. This way, your toddler can learn from the older children while getting the chance to impart her own wisdom onto those that are younger.

  • Invite the grown-ups to join you for a cup of coffee while your children play together. Toddlers often feel more comfortable when their parents are close by. Plus, you can hone your own social skills and make a new friend yourself.

  • If the parents decide not to stay, make sure you have the necessary contact information just in case you need to get a hold of them during the playdate. Also, be sure to have a preset pick-up time.

  • Depending on the age of your toddler and how well he handles being with others, a playdate that lasts for half an hour to an hour is usually the ideal. Of course, if the children are enjoying themselves, there’s nothing wrong with extending the playdate or cutting it short if someone starts to get cranky.

  • If you’re worried about your toddler’s ability to share her toys, then consider moving the playdate outside the home. Going to the park, a playground, a petting zoo, children’s hour at your local library or taking a walk in a nearby ravine are great activities that toddlers can enjoy together. If you prefer staying home, then why not put on some music and get dancing with your toddlers?