By Melissa Carter, Canadian Family's Lifestyle Editor
As a mom of a toddler and baby, a family counselor and part owner of Toronto’s Lil’ Bean n’ Green, a family-friendly café and play spot, Meray Mansour has hosted and attended hundreds of playdates. Here are her top tips for one that leaves everyone smiling.
The best size for a positive play date experience is two. Any more toddlers leads to too much competition and chaos. “Toddlers are just beginning to get a sense of personal identity and belongings so they tend to be possessive and frustrate easily because they are still trying to figure out how to communicate their needs and wants,” says Mansour. “A toddler/preschooler combination works very well because preschoolers have a more developed sense of identity, like to conform and are less resistive to change. When they play together, the older child learns to be a leader and feels a sense of accomplishment, while the younger one is happy to mirror or copy the preschooler.”
If you don’t know each other well, stick to toddler cafés, libraries and playgrounds. “There isn’t the attachment to prized possessions involved and the kids get to have an adventure when it’s an outing,” says Mansour. “The other advantage is that adults get to focus on the children and each other and have a good time without having to worry about anything else, like tidying or cooking.” After a few playdates, you’ll know if the relationships are gelling; if so, you can move it to you homes.
If you’re hosting at home, choose age-appropriate activities that allow for parallel play, rather than direct sharing, such as colouring with non-toxic crayons, kitchen play, playing on the swings and building blocks to encourage the transition to co-operation without being too pushy. Mansour recommends having a good selection of books on-hand for the children to look through and asking and following the other parent’s cue on their preferences/policy for TV-time and movies, sticking to gender-neutral, age-appropriate short educational shows and movies.
Choose a time of day when your toddler is usually well rested and fed. Talking about it with your toddler before the day comes and giving reminders the day of makes for a smooth transition, says Mansour. Limit play dates to an hour and a half and have healthy snacks on hand to keep moods level. Warnings, such as “Kai will be going home soon for nap time,” are a tactful reminder to over-stayers and distractions such as “Let’s go home so you can have a bath before your nap,” can give your toddler something that he enjoys to look forward to.