When hosting a toddler play date, timing is of paramount importance. There is no point in organising two tiny tyrants to play during a child’s normal naptime. This is a recipe for utter disaster. Keep the play date to a couple of hours maximum. This is plenty of time for a toddler to exhaust himself, without going into over-tired territory. If you are the guest, make sure you don’t overstay your welcome either!
Make sure you have a range of snacks available including healthier items like fruit, cheese cubes and cucumber sticks, as well as items like biscuits etc. This way, even the fussiest toddler is catered for and a well-timed snack can bring any child back from the edge of tantrum!
Play dates can bring out the best and the worst in your child. Invite another child into their territory and prepare to watch scenes of selfishness, non-sharing and downright rudeness that you have never seen before. This is completely normal. Children find it very difficult to share their own toys so don’t get too uptight if your child struggles with this.
Tears, shouting, pushing and tantrums are all common sights in a play date from both the host child and the guest child so don’t be surprised if you need to act like a referee! If your child plays nicely and shares beautifully, just thank your lucky stars it’s not your turn to parent a tricky toddler.
Children can also find playing in a strange environment tricky. If you turn up at your friend’s house and your normally placid child turns into a screaming, crying wreck, don’t despair. This is also normal. They need reassurance that they are safe and support to play. The above-mentioned well-timed snack is a good technique here!
Having said this, there is something wonderful about watching children play, create and interact with one another. It may be that they are just happy playing alongside each other rather than with each other, but this is common amongst younger children. Older children can go from being strangers one minute to being best buddies the next, sharing dens, ball games, races. It’s heart-warming to watch!
Although most children are happy playing together with toys and balls, occasionally you get to a point where you need to intervene and change the activity. Maybe the same toy is being fought over or the same argument is happening over and over again. At this point, it’s nice to have a pre-arranged activity for them. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but some paper and colouring pencils, or a bit of modelling clay can help diffuse a fractious situation and give the children time to calm and focus before going off to run about again.
It may be that your friend’s house is more suited to a toddler play date, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer to host yourself. Play dates are a good way to catch up over coffee while the children play, but there is the issue of preparation and clean up, so it’s only fair to swap about venues. Toddlers are creatures of mess and can create havoc wherever they go. Most parents relish the opportunity to have someone else’s house reduced to chaos every now and again!
One of the biggest bonuses of a play date is a tired toddler. If you can get your toddler to have a lovely long nap after a play date, you have nailed the object of the play date! You’ve navigated the disagreements and intervened before they’ve bashed chunks out of each other. You’ve survived. Now enjoy the peace.