Play dates are scheduled events or appointments where children play together. It’s for the benefit of the child AND the parent, right? As a new parent to a toddler, I figured that my two-and-a-half-year old daughter would mold easily to my life and any situation where there were children present. I assumed that if my friends had kids and I brought Charlotte with me, they would all play and get along, right? Wrong.
After about three “playdates” with my friends and their kids, I noticed a pattern: Charlotte playing by herself, asking to watch something on my phone, and eventually asking if she could go home. It really made me sad to see her not meshing with other kids. Was she not social? Were the other kids being mean? What was it? Charlotte played well at school and she had friends that we met up with regularly. What was happening on these play dates that were different?
After a lot of thought, I realized that I was making these “playdates” for Charlotte without really thinking about her. I wanted to hang out with my girlfriends while pretending the “play date” was for her. My friends’ kids were older than Charlotte and the other kids always had a pair. For instance, two 4-year-old boys + Charlotte. Or two almost 4-year-old girls that went to school together + Charlotte. No wonder she was always playing alone. I assumed that any kid would do, but at her learning stage, the age of the other child/children really mattered. Kids that were too young didn’t interact enough. Kids that were too old thought she was “a baby” and left her out of their fun.
Once I realize the pattern and the unfair “playdates” I was scheduling, I decided to focus on Charlotte centered playdates. I picked children that Charlotte loved playing with and planned one to two dates per weekend for about 2 months. The stark difference in these playdates really blew my mind. Charlotte and her friend really engaged the entire time together. They played, sang, communicated and had the time of their lives. The one-on-one dynamic plus having toddler (boy or girl) within a few months of her age really fostered this beautiful connection that I had not thought about. I had wrongly assumed that if their mom and I were friends, our kids would be too.
Changing my approach and my own perspective on what a playdate was for, has been a huge parenting lesson for me. If I want Charlotte to develop social and communication skills, I need to think about the children she is doing it with. Now I make intentional play dates for Charlotte that are centered around her and her life/learning/social skills stage. Seeing her have a blast with a friend, even at 2, has been amazing. I’m not sure if any other mamas have gone through this, but I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes!