That playdate may leave crayons, grass stains and mud across the house and your lounge looking like a toy factory, but it’s an important part of your baby’s social development.
That’s according to one study which has highlighted the benefits kids get from interacting with others and how this impacts on their future character.
What are the benefits of playdates?
Affection, empathy, negotiation and appreciating someone else’s point of view are just some of the things your little one’s starting to grasp during that teddy bear’s tea party with their nursery friends.
‘By interacting with their peers, children begin to learn about perspective-taking, where they can realise how others may have different thoughts and feelings,’ says Dr. Theodore K. Pontikes from Loyola University in Chicago.
‘This process facilitates learning to problem solve and to develop critical thinking skills, while practicing how to respond respectfully in the context of disagreements when interpersonal tensions arise. These are situations one encounters throughout life, and children need a strong grounding to know how to respond.’
How to set playdates up
The first thing to think about is how many kids to have at your playdate. It might be nice to keep the numbers lower while they're young (think two or three of them), and you can increase the numbers as they get older. This means they can really work on developing that interaction and you won't have to worry about any of them being left out. Not to mention, the more kids, the more stress you'll have as the organiser.
If the playdate isn't at your house, it's a good idea to stick around rather than drop off and leave, especially if your child isn't used to the new surroundings.
For babies and toddlers, keep the playdates to around an hour long. Preschoolers should be able to handle two to three hours.
What to do at playdates?
Some of the most fun and easiest games we love for playdates include:
• Musical statues - put on some of their favourite tunes and play statues when it stops.
• Hide and seek - a classic, just make sure they know which areas are off limits!
• An outdoor scavenger hunt - make a list of things they can find out in the garden.
• Origami - paper can be so fun and it's minimal mess too. You can find more crafts for toddlers here.
• Board games
As far as playdate etiquette goes, always bring snacks, help with the cleaning and make sure your child makes an effort to say thank you after the playdate. Make sure you're aware of any food allergies (especially if the other parent isn't sticking around).
If you're hosting, it's a good idea to get your child to put away some of their toys they might not want to share, but make it clear to them their friend can play with the rest of their toys.
Before you swerve the small talk with the other parents at the playdate, turns out it’s also about the relationships you demonstrate too. Dr. Pontikes points out that children learn through seeing you interact with their friends’ parents in a positive, healthy way. So, erm, the weather/traffic/news at the moment, eh?
When it comes to discipline, it's a good idea to leave this up to the parent. If things are getting a little heated between your tot and their friend, avoid stepping in and instead start a new game or change the subject by saying it's snack time. There's often no need to report back to the parent on their child's behaviour, unless they've gotten really upset over something or someone has been physically hurt. In this case, it's okay for you to mention to the parent that there's been a little incident.
Finally, give your tots a ten minute and five minute warning before the playdate is set to end so they can prepare themselves for saying goodbye and have time for a good clear up. Hopefully, this will mean less tears.