“Mine mine mine mine mine!” One little boy at the YMCA playroom was having a really hard time. “It didn’t matter whether or not he was even playing with it, if another kid touched a toy, he had to have it,” remembers Leigh, an, Ontario mom to two-year-old Jon.
Jon is an easygoing toddler who hasn’t, so far, had a lot of problems with sharing toys or getting along with other children, but that “mine” stage exhibited by the playmate is very common, says Victoria Campbell, a registered early childhood educator at Our Place Family Resource and Early Years Centre in Kitchener, Ont. It’s just one of the normal challenges involved with playdates for toddlers.
“Toddlers are still very self-absorbed and egocentric,” explains Campbell. “They have a hard time understanding people’s feelings. They don’t understand sharing, so they need a lot of support with that. And they don’t play independently for more than a few minutes, especially in a group.”
So playdates at this age are not exactly relaxing. If you have your heart set on having a good yak in the kitchen while the kids entertain themselves in the family room, you’ll need to wait another year or so. But playdates are well worth the effort.
Kate of Calgary has a couple of good friends she’s hung out with since her first pregnancy. Her little girl, Bowie, is now almost three and she’s noticed the children play much more by themselves now. But when they were a year younger, she says, “Playdates were much more hands-on. They would play more with us than with each other, and we’d have to help them get involved in the activities.” But that still left plenty of time to enjoy some adult conversation and share support. “Now some of us are on our second, and it’s great to share ideas about how to deal with this new balancing act.”
Even though young toddlers tend to play side by side rather than with each other, they still work on their developing social skills and enjoy just being around each other. Campbell has these tips to help keep your next playdate a happy experience:
On the days when the kids have fun and the parents have a great visit, playdates can be the highlight of the week. Seeing your toddler’s first little companions become real friends is a truly heartwarming experience. Hounjet recalls the last time they left a playmate: “Quinn had to run back and hug and kiss her friend goodbye. It was really sweet.”