Playing with other children is a big part of growing up. It’s when many kids begin to learn and practice social skills they’ll need later in life like communication, sharing, and interacting with different types of people. As a parent this means you’ll have to get to know other parents, some of whom you’ll become friends with and others that you could go your entire life never seeing again. The important thing is that you make sure your child has the opportunity to play and socialize with other children. No matter how awkward or intimidating it may seem at first.

Different Kinds of Playdates

Back in the day, and in some of the more tight-knit communities these days, all a kid had to do to round up the neighborhood children for a game was knock on their doors and ask. Nowadays, setting up a playdate requires more effort on the part of the parents. There are different types of playdates, structured and unstructured or “free play,” both of which should be supervised by an adult.

Typically, structured playdates include planned activities like arts and crafts, or even supervised baking. Free play is exactly what it sounds like — kids can run around inside, play with their toys together, hang out on the jungle gym, whatever.

The younger your child, the more likely it is that you’ll end up staying at the playdate and getting to know the other child’s parent(s). Don’t worry; it’s a good thing! Instead of hawking your kid the whole time you can take a breath and enjoy the company of another adult. Who knows, you may even end up becoming friends. When children are younger, playdates are more for the parents anyway. They get a chance to learn about each other’s personalities and parenting styles, plus it gives a great opportunity for parents to socialize with each other, something that’s hard to do when you’re busy raising a child.

So how are you supposed to set up a playdate for you child anyway? Thankfully, there are more options these days than picking up the phone and calling other kids’ parents.

Playdate Ideas: From Setting up a Playdate to Activities

Many moms these days use social media to their advantage when it comes to setting up playdates for their children. Whether you’re new to the neighborhood, are a playdate virgin, or simply want to expand your pool of possibilities Facebook can help. Facebook is a great place for parents to meet other parent and get a feel for their parenting styles and personalities.

Starting a Facebook group of local parents and then using the community page to schedule different activities and playdates is a great way for modern moms to connect. Having a Facebook community of local parents spreads the responsibility of playdate activities and ideas, plus it takes some of the pressure off by involving more than one or two parents. Parents can post playdate dates and information, get ideas for future playdate activities, as well as get to know the other parents before committing to an actual playdate.

Can’t afford a Mommy & Me class or live too far away to attend one? If your child is too little to go on an official playdate you should still try and get to know other mothers in the area, especially if your little ones will be growing up together. But Mommy & Me classes can be expensive, especially when there’s another little person in the family to take care of. One way to get around the extra costs and logistical problems of a Mommy & Me class is to create your own! Start a rotating group of classes targeted towards moms, with each class being hosted at a different parent’s home. The host parent is the one responsible for the materials, but everyone can contribute to ideas. Some great DIY Mommy & Me “class” ideas include arts & crafts, music, dancing, even baby yoga! For tips on organizing your very own Mommy & Me classes, check out these five tips from Elizabeth Street.

What to Bring on a Playdate

  • Don’t feel obligated to bake up a storm just because your child has a playdate. Some moms like baking sweets to send with their children so they can’t be tempted with the goodies on their own counters. Others are just swept up in the goodie bag culture, or maybe they just love to bake. Regardless, the only thing you’re absolutely responsible for bringing on a playdate is your child.
  • Quick Tips for Parents Going to a Playdate:
  • Don’t let parental faux pas jeopardize your child’s opportunity to play with their friends. What you as a parent do or don’t do can determine whether or not your child is guest listed or blacklisted.
  • Don’t leave a messy house when it’s time to go. At the very least, offer to help clean up the toy or play area, don’t just grab your child and go. Even if the host refuses they’ll appreciate that you offered.
  • Don’t forget to pack a snack! Sometimes little ones fall into food ruts and will only eat certain things. Weird things, like mayo and sweet pickles on Saltine crackers. Other times you may need to pack special snacks because your child has an allergy. If your child has food allergies you also bear the responsibility of telling the host about the allergy. Either way, it’s always better to be prepared.
  • Don’t dump your child and run. Especially if your child is going on a play date with a new friend, it’s important to make sure they are settled and comfortable before leaving, not screaming and unhappy. Remember: it isn’t daycare; it’s a playdate.
  • Don’t be late for your play date. Make sure you have the host’s phone number to call if you’re running late. Other parents are busy, too, and it’s important to be considerate of their time and plans.
  • Don’t turn play dates into competitions. It’s easy to get sucked into the my-baby’s-smarter-than-yours-game, but what’s the point? Playdates are supposed to be fun for kids and parents, not a chance to start freaking out because your baby doesn’t speak yet, or isn’t potty trained yet, or only says five words instead of ten.

Remember that when it comes to parenting, we’re all in it together. So try and fight back any anxiety you may feel — we promise, it gets better with practice — remind yourself that other parents are just regular people, too, and start setting up your playdates with confidence!

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