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The ABCs of Toddler Playdates

Playdates can be valuable learning experiences for you and your little ones. Here's how to make the most of your child's social calendar.
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Jennifer Bianco knows how to make the most of a playdate. The mother of a girl and boy, ages 6 and 3 respectively, Bianco uses playdates as an important social experience both for her kids and for herself.

"Playdates are great for my kids," Bianco says. "They learn how to interact with other kids; they learn how to share and how to get along in general. And it gives me a great opportunity to connect with other adults to talk about parentingand things totally unrelated to being a mom, which is refreshing."

Experts agree with Bianco that playdates are loaded with opportunity for parent and child. But to be sure you get the most benefit, it's important to understand playdate etiquette. There's more to a playdate than just scheduling a day, time, and place to meet. You need to consider certain factors such as age, frequency, and location as well as what to expect when everyone gets together.

Playdate Etiquette

Age: Jenn Berman, author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, says, "It's never too early for a playdate for a child, even an infant. Babies are fascinated by other babies, and any new stimulation is really good for brain development. Even looking at another child, touching hands, and just being curious is really good."  

For toddlers, the age of the other children doesn't really matter. Based on her experience with her own kids, Bianco says most kids will find some value in spending time with another child even if their ages don't match. It's not until they get a little older, around the age of 5, that a child begins to show preference for spending time with others closer in age.

Gender: "Playdates are a great opportunity for your child to interact with the other gender," Berman says. "It really doesn't matter if you arrange a playdate with a child of the opposite sex until your child says it does." And that usually doesn't happen, Berman says, until the child is older.

Frequency: "Twice a week is a nice number," Berman says. But she cautions not to go overboard and to avoid the tendency to over-schedule your kids.

"I don't like to see a child having a playdate seven days a week," Berman says. "We live in a society that doesn't value people spending time on their own, but that's an important skill to learn, even for toddlers."  

Bianco, a working mom, says once every couple of weeks works for her and her family's busy schedule. The trick is to find a balance that works for you and keeps your kids happy.

Location: It's good to have a combination of locations for playdates; new places mean new learning experiences for your child.

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