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Our Blog: October 2, 2013

Playdates are Important – Here’s Why!

Everyone knows playdates are fun. But did you know they actually boost your child’s brain power, too? In my next three articles, I’ll explain why. I’ll also give you tips on how to host a successful playdate, how your child can be a gracious playdate guest, and explain how even babies can benefit from playdates.

Good social skills are essential to helping your child lead a happier, healthier life – but these skills need lots of practice and coaching. Playdates are an amazing experimental laboratory for growing your child’s social skills.

Today, let’s focus on the academic and developmental benefits of playdates:

  • Baby Benefits: Don’t feel pressured to sign baby up for special classes, but go ahead and do it if YOU enjoy the activity, or you like spending time with other parents in the class. Even the youngest babies “absorb” their parents’ interests and feelings. Chatting with friends over coffee or taking walks at the park also count as baby playdates – nothing fancy (or expensive) needed!
  • Toddlers Too: Arrange playdates for your toddler, even if it seems they’re not interested. Toddlers tend to engage in mostly parallel play – meaning they play independently, alongside other children. Not much interaction takes place. But don’t be fooled – they’re keeping a careful eye on their peers, soaking in lots of social rules and skills in the process.
  • Preschoolers’ Play Power: Age 3-5 is the key stage for learning the social skills basics of turn-taking, sharing, empathy, and patience. Cooperative play has kicked in by now, which helps fuel the imaginative “make believe” games that are essential in building friendships, creativity, and problem solving. Make the most of playdates during these years!
  • Parents as Coaches: Playdates are most successful when parents actively plan the details of the playdate, like getting down on the floor with the kids to set the right tone at the beginning of the playdate, being available close-by for supervision and conflict resolution, and stepping in when someone seems tired, hungry, or needs to go to the potty.

Have questions about playdates? Ask them here, and I’ll answer them in our next post in the series!

In the meantime, read here for more on the scientific research on children’s play and social skills, plus another post on why play is so important.

About the Author

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Dr. Wittenberg is a psychologist specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers — and parents. She offers no-hype, practical parenting advice on her blog BabyShrink — rooted in science, and road tested in her own home as the mother of four young children. She has helped thousands of parents over the years and knows that the most common problems with young children — sleep, feeding, potty training and behavior — can be the most difficult ones to solve.