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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.

Playdate Etiquette continued...

Berman says, "It's a great experience for a child to see another child's house and see how they live.  It's also good to have someone visit your house so your child can learn to welcome his friends into his home."

There's also nothing wrong with neutral ground, Berman says. Parks, playgrounds, and centers that host playgroups are all good options for playdate ideas. 

Length: Two hours is the magic number for Bianco and her kids. That's just enough time to play, have a snack, take a break, and play again before wrapping things up.

Reciprocity: The correct way to handle playdates is to make sure you reciprocate with other moms.

"If you host a playdate at your house, then it's only fair that the mom and child offer the same invitation to you and your child," Bianco says. "We've had playdates with my daughter's friend at our home but have never received an invitation in return. So my daughter keeps asking, 'Why can't I play over at her house?'"

This especially rings true for busy, working parents like Bianco, who rearranges her schedule to make time for a playdate and likes it when other moms reciprocate.

Sharing Problems

Playdates offer fun for all, but they're not without their fair share of problems, sharing being one of them.

"Parents mistakenly believe that kids should share right away," Berman says. "But kids aren't ready to share when they're only a year old. They come into the world with the belief that, 'I am touching this, it's mine and I don't want to share.' It's like telling an adult to share his arm -- a toy is an extension of the child."

Parents should manage their expectations around sharing in advance of a playdate with younger toddlers. Talk with your child before the playdate to set guidelines. "Tell your child that Johnny is coming over to play and he might want to use some of your child's toys," Berman says. "It's OK to put some of your child's favorite toys away if he will feel uncomfortable sharing them. Then, the toys that are out can be shared without conflict."

If conflict does arise, just talk it through. "Narrate what you see between the kids," Berman says. "And give empathy. 'We know it can be hard to share, but when Susie is done playing with the toy, you can have it back.'"

Playing with Shy Children

Another playdate problem is the anxiety a young child might feel at another child's house. Bianco experienced a playdate where a mother left her child at Bianco's home. Fifteen minutes after the mom had left, the child had a meltdown.

"I really believe that a parent should stay at a playdate with their kids," Bianco says, "especially if the child is young and if he doesn't really know the family.".

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