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5 Ways to Make Play Dates Fun for You & Your Toddler

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

Many parents have this romantic notion that their children will play nicely together, whilst the they get a chance to catch up on things over a hot cup of coffee.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Instead, you find yourself comforting your crying child, breaking up a tug-of-war over a doll, flinging yourself at high speed across the room to catch the car that has just been hurled at your child’s head or you are constantly apologising to the other parents for your child’s persistent whining, “He’s not usually like this. It must be his teeth or he’s getting a cold!”

By this stage your coffee has grown cold, you’ve got a headache and you watch the clock waiting for a polite time to make your get away!

Sharing isn’t something that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught. The best way to teach this is by being a positive role model to your child, not only by setting a good example but by offering them guidance and support.

Constant squabbling over toys, status and territory is all about establishing a pecking order and having a platform from which they are able to express themselves. Between the ages of 2-4 this kind of behaviour is very common. This does not have to be a negative experience by any means, if handled correctly this can be a valuable life lesson.

If you have arranged a play day for your toddler, be conscious of how many children you have invited. Too many little ones are usually a recipe for disaster, especially in your home, for there will never be enough space or enough toys and the noise level will get so high that it will leave parents, and children alike, feeling temperamental and emotional.

Having a small even numbered group will not only give everyone a chance to play together but it will limit the odds of one child feeling excluded or left out.

With a little thought and preparation these get togethers could be a lot of fun for everyone concerned.

Here are 5 great tips that will help your child’s play day run smoothly:

Forewarned is forearmed

Before the other children arrive take the time to explain to your child that he will have to share his toys with the other children.

If he has any special toys that he is particularly fond of let him put them on your bed, where they will be safe until everyone has gone home.

When he has done this say, ‘Well done, now you and your friends can have fun playing with the other toys,’ this way your child will feel he has had some say in what toys he is prepared to share and those he is not.

Designated play areas

Involve your child in setting up designated play areas in the room you are going to use. ‘Can you put the crayons and colouring book on the table,’ ‘Can you help me get the box of cars and we can put them next to the road mat?’

Do the same if you are going to play in the garden. Prepare the sand box, water table, ride-a-longs and a box for bats and balls beforehand. This will not only encourage the children to explore freely but give them a sense of independence and control.

Ground rules

Don’t be shy about implementing house rules. Children thrive on guidance and boundaries (within reason of course) especially if it’s administered in a fun and relaxed manner.

Set ground rules that everyone will understand ‘If you throw sand you will have to go inside’

Encourage good manners as much as possible. If a child just points to a toy and says ‘Want car’ get down to their level and say, ‘Please may I have that car?’ He may smile and attempt to repeat the question or simply say ‘please,’ if this happens praise him enthusiastically ‘What a good boy, you said please so nicely.’

Help them to find a solution

If two children are fighting over the same toy help them to find a solution. ‘Okay, you both want to play with this car but there’s only one. What do you think we should do?’

Prompt them to have a discussion as to who can play with the car first ‘who do you think should play with the car first?’ and distract the other one until it is his turn ‘Tommy why don’t you play with the aeroplanes and when James has finished you can have a go.’ Let Tommy play with the car for 5-10 minutes before allowing James to have a turn.

Praise both children for their co-operation and their fine ‘problem-solving’ skills!

Tidy up time

The last thing most mothers want when having children over is to have them running around the house whilst eating and drinking. Not only is this dangerous, its bad manners, after all who wants to be mopping up sticky juice off the floor or vacuuming up thousands of crumbs once everyone has left?

Let the children play for 30-45 minutes then ask them to help tidy up ‘Let’s put all the toys away then we can sit at the table and have a drink, veggie sticks and a biscuit.’ If you sing ‘tidy up’ songs as you are doing this the children will see this more as a game rather than a chore.

After everyone has finished their snack ask them to put their rubbish in the bin and then let them have a play in the garden. Repeat when it’s time to go home.

‘Tidy up time’ song – to the tune of Frere Jacques

Tidy up time,

Tidy up time,

Toys away,

Toys away,

Everybody helping,

Everybody helping,

Tidy up,

Tidy up.

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