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Health & Parenting

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The ABCs of Toddler Playdates



“Toddlers aren't as sensitive to the problems of a 'love triangle' as older children can be,” says Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD, author of Playful Parenting. “But if there aren't enough parents around, then a group of toddlers can turn into chaos.”

Enough toys. Toddlers aren't known for sharing, so offer toys that will make children want to play together.

“Building toys like blocks, pretend toys like cars or kitchen sets, or active toys like balls and ride-ons can all give kids something to do together,” says David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Wilmington, N.C.

Certain toys aren't right for playdates, though. “[Don't offer] anything electronic,” Golinkoff says. “Leave home the iPad.”

When two toddlers own the same toy, it's OK to ask the parent to bring the other child's toy along, so there won't be fighting.

If two children want the same toy, you can help them share. “By about 18 months, they can understand the concept of taking turns,” Shu says. “Set a timer and show it to them. When it beeps, it's time to switch.”

Hands-off care. You might want to show your toddler how to play well with others, but it's best to let children figure things out on their own.

“The goal of a playdate is for children to learn how to interact with others,” Hill says. “If children are hitting, biting, or throwing things, someone has to step in and break up the conflict, but otherwise, try to stay out of the way.”

Young toddlers do “parallel play,” which means they sit near each other and play with different toys. That's normal, so don't force anything more.

“Let toddlers decide how much to interact with each other and how much to explore on their own,” Cohen says.

Adult time. Playdates are good for parents, too. They can seek support from each other, tell stories about their kids, and talk about themselves.

“Parents share what's going on in their lives when the kids play,” Golinkoff says. “It's good to be able to unload and get advice.”

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