In this article, I’m sharing my take on playdates for babies and toddlers and how I have approached this topic since Poppet was born. I also interviewed Sr Lilian for some advice on things like toddlers who bite us and each other.
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Playdates For Babies and Toddlers – why is this important?
Infants don’t really play but they do look around and learn
I dedicated a whole lot of energy to mom and baby classes when Poppet was tiny with the purpose of exposing her to as many different things as possible. We started going for Hydrotherapy sessions when she was 12 weeks old; we had the usual family gatherings where she ‘played’ with her cousins, younger and older; and we also put her in a daycare three mornings a week, for three months.
Parallel Play usually starts occurring from the 1st birthday onwards. This is when the toddlers play together but are still alone.
You know what I’m talking about. When the babies are in a sandpit where they are playing by themselves alongside each other. They are not too bothered by what the others are doing. They may look up and observe their playmates, occasionally wanting the toy that the other baby has or trying to mimic what the others are doing.
Their behaviour is guided by their desires and displays egocentric thinking.
We decided to send Poppet to school in January this year (2018).
On occasion, the school will send me videos of Poppet. She will be playing in the sandpit alone while there is a little music circle activity taking place on the other side of the playground. Toddlers are often on their own mission, but the reality is that they are actually learning a whole lot more than we might realise.
Playdates for toddlers – why are they important if they’re barely interacting?
Parallel play is an important step in the emotional and social development of children. Here are a few of the things they learn during parallel play:
They learn to socialise
They learn from the behaviour of others, good and bad. It all helps to shape how they will handle social situations in the future.
It teaches them that real life interactions and relationships are fun and important and sometimes present challenges too.
They learn to share and take turns.
They keep a close eye on how the adults interact with each other. I like to believe that this teaches children that other people can also be trusted, and it subconsciously helps a little bit with the separation anxiety. If mom is having a good time with her friend/s and the interaction is positive it creates an environment for them to develop their own social skills. In everyday life they observe our actions towards others too. A friendly greeting to the lady who works in the grocery store or an argument between an adult and the store manager can also teach a child more than we realize.
Observation and Skills Development
They learn everything about the environment around them by simply watching and doing.
They absorb loads of information and develop their brains with a stimulus that is unlike that of their home or school. They enjoy different exposure, similar to that of birthday parties.
They develop many important skills, like language.
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Developing Their Immune System
They get the opportunity to develop their immune system. We know that babies who stay at home also have this opportunity simply because the adults interact in the community. Adults may be the carriers of childhood diseases like hand foot and mouth, but because our immune systems are mature we don’t actually get the disease. We pass these germs onto our children and then they fall ill. Kids who are in school are exposed to a concentration of childhood diseases that are going around. By going to play dates at playgrounds, other facilities and other homes they have an opportunity to be exposed to a broader spectrum of germs that their little bodies can learn to fight naturally from an early age.
Why are playdates important for parents?
Well, for me that is.
Personally, it’s important to me to observe my child’s social development occasionally. I’m not there when she’s at school so I can’t see how she handles different social and emotional situations.
It does become uncomfortable for me when parents interfere a bit too much for my liking though. When Poppet is playing with kids who are slightly older than her and have progressed to the severe “Mine!” stage. I find that parents can sometimes get a bit too involved. But, perhaps people feel sorry for my smaller baby, or perhaps they think I’m going to judge their kid for “being a brat”.
I guess I can also sometimes mistake guidance for interference though. When my child is stroking the cats in our complex I often find myself saying “gently”. I believe we are at playdates to guide our kids and not to inhibit their learning process.
It’s important to me to interact with people face to face.
We live in a digital era where we can quickly become alone together. To be perfectly honest here, ‘Alone/Together’ suits me quite well most of the time. It’s important to me to interact face to face because I consider face to face to be a weakness of mine. I can be very socially awkward. I’m not great with small talk. My husband says that I say what others are only thinking.
I recently watched the new American series on Functional Medicine by Dr. Mark Hyman when it had just launched. In this series about the broken brain, the doctors briefly discussed the importance of community and how it affects our brain function and overall wellbeing.
I think we forget that in the old day’s moms would go and knock on each other’s doors to borrow eggs and have a face to face discussion about their hardships or triumphs with their kids. Today we have the benefit and curse of being able to hop onto a Facebook group to ask a mom-question and have it answered by multiple moms within seconds.
What is important to babies and toddlers at a playdate?
In my opinion? Play, full stop.
They don’t care about the location, or about the toys or the lack thereof. They also don’t care about the snacks and food, they’ll eat anything if they’re hungry. Whatever else we think they care about is exactly that – only what we think they care about.
What is important to parents at playdates for babies and toddlers?
There are a few essential requirements that I have if I want to ensure that playdates for babies and toddlers can be deemed ‘a success’:
- It’s important to me that my baby is comfortable. This includes a dry nappy that fits comfortably when we’re not in and around the water. In the water, her swimming nappy needs to be the right fit as well as her other cozzies.
- It’s important to me that we are safe, and we are protected from the sun or other elements.
- It’s important that she’s eaten something.
- It’s important that she’s had a nap.
Those last two points make a huge difference to the amount of fun that I have, which is important too.
There are many other things that I am tempted to list as important, but they aren’t really that important, it’s more of a wish list.
The Fun Factor
Over the last few weeks, we have had some awesome play dates where we really put the new Pampers Splashers swimming nappy to test.
At first, we just let Poppet play around in them in the water at home. I wanted to check that the size was right for her because the weight range on the packaging is just a guide.
Once I was happy with the size, we used them at a few different toddler playdates: in the pool at a birthday party, we had a playdate in the fountains at Montecasino, at Life Baby Spa, and a few more at home.
One thing to remember is that babies can outgrow the absorbency of the nappy before they outgrow the fit. At our baby playdates, I tested the nappies on other babies too. We haven’t experienced any issues whatsoever with the absorbency but believe me when I tell you that after five play dates with toddlers in the water I never encountered a poo nappy! I did a video review on our YouTube channel after I have had the pleasure of dealing with a watery poo nappy at home.
The Right Fit
If you run your finger along the inside of the waistband and leg cuffs so that the nappies wrap around your baby’s legs and bottom like underwear, it ensures a very comfortable and proper fit. You can see the demonstration of this in the YouTube review here.
These nappies don’t swell like the regular nappies because they do not contain the same absorbent gelling material.
The amount the pants will hold depends on the type and level of activity in the water, and the fit. When Poppet was playing in the fountains the nappy didn’t seem to hold as much as in the pool. Maybe this was because the water was spraying from all angles? I didn’t like the way it looked on her after a while, it looked a bit droopy after a lengthy time of lots of splashing. It was probably time to change into a new one, but I didn’t feel the need to change her just for the sake of what she looked like. She still seemed perfectly comfortable and there were no leaks.
The swimming pants are unisex, and they come in sizes 3, 4, 5, and 6.
I’m really chuffed with these nappies. I’m using the nappies underneath her other swimwear as well. I still prefer to have her in sun protection swimwear when we’re in the blazing sun and there are times that I still use her cute little one pieces as well. The Pampers Splashers Swimming nappy is my personal choice of protection which is compulsory at any swimming facility or swim school.
I Asked The Expert – Sister Lilian
I interviewed Sister Lilian, leading South African midwife, pregnancy and parenting advisor and Pampers Institute expert to find out her opinion on playdates for babies and toddlers.
Is it really important for babies and toddlers to have play dates?
Humans are social creatures and as such, it’s important for parents to create socialisation opportunities. These should start with the intimate family (Dad, Mom and babies/children) and gradually expand to include the extended family, friends and then the wider circle encountered in day-to-day living. ‘Playdate’ is one trendy concept that is a form of this socialisation.
Why should babies and toddlers be playing ‘together’ when they are still at the age of only playing parallel, alongside each other?
The distinction between parallel play and playing alongside each other is something for parents to know about. However, an instinctual approach to parenting will ensure that Moms and Dads pick up on, and respect, where their child is at in terms of socialization. They can then encourage this, rather than force the interaction.
What is the most important thing at playdates for babies and toddlers?
To make sure that you are doing this with your little one’s best interests at heart – I don’t ascribe to a forceful parenting style regarding any development areas (like sleeping, feeding, play). These are often done in the name of a so-called happier home and a more content and independent little one. Parents fool themselves with this approach. Neuroscience and neuropsychology now give plenty of evidence to support this more sensitive approach. Note that I say “sensitive”, not “weak”! Principles, boundaries and guidelines are always important to help foster security.
What can we as parents do to ensure that our babies are most comfortable during a playdate?
Be there in the wings. Sometimes it’s best to start by just having your little one sitting close to you and observing, gradually letting them take the first step to involvement. For other more extrovert toddlers it’ll be about monitoring the ‘vibe’ to see that your child and the other children on the playdate are physically and emotionally safe.
How can we best handle our kids when they bite, hit or push others, or if/when they have been bitten/hit/hurt?
Aggressive behaviour and bullying are usually frowned upon quite severely in society. This type of behaviour usually becomes most noticeable when little ones start attending daycare or interacting with younger siblings or other children at social gatherings. While some children have a bullying streak right from the start, others only develop it when they become toddlers. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed, bullying doesn’t mean that your tot is ‘bad’ or that you are a bad parent. However, it is important to address the negative behaviour.
As with all types of unacceptable behaviour, it’s important to analyse why bullying is taking place before trying to solve the problem. Just like adults, some little ones are simply more impatient, possessive, and dominant than others. There’s often a family streak and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your child might be decisive, outgoing, and a strong leader. The important thing is to teach your child that others should be respected, rather than trying to break his or her will.
Also, children will be children. That means there is usually a degree of selfishness for the first four years or so that makes sharing toys a challenge. Children also tend to be impulsive and curious, and they’ll pursue their own way without considering others. It’s about making practical and canny plans to deal with this!
‘Rough and tough’ parenting aims to raise strong, independent children in a tough world and often includes ‘self-soothing’, frequent teasing so that little ones are more ‘immune’ to what others think. This particular parenting style puts the emphasis on quickly outgrowing ‘baby’ behaviour like breastfeeding, suckling on dummies and bottle teats, and using nappies. Unfortunately, this can result in a lack of concern or respect for others and can make little ones respond aggressively.
Not all bullying behaviour stems from a deeper cause; sometimes it really is just a passing phase.
Some effective ways on how to deal with bullying behaviour include:
- Using a gentler, more sensitive parenting approach, as mentioned previously. Gentle parenting is not weak, but rather it is infinitely strong.
- Think about the example your child receives from you and tone down your overly sharp-edged, critical behaviour.
- Spend more time doing fun, meaningful things with your child. Treat time with your child as a priority and they will learn to do the same with their playmates.
- Use distraction when your child shows growing signs of aggression or frustration. This teaches your child that there is a more constructive, positive way to channel that negative energy.
- Don’t leave bullies and victims to ‘sort themselves out’. Unless you know that the ‘victim’ is also to blame and that the incident will immediately go away if you don’t provide an audience value.
- Make sure the ‘victim’ of serious bullying is immediately comforted. Then offer up a distraction and encourage fun social activities with others so that a victim mentality is not accidentally instilled.
- Say a firm ‘no’ if your little one continues to display unacceptable behaviour toward others and take her away from the child that is being bullied. Then turn around and walk away, avoiding eye contact or conversation, and keep moving if your tot follows you.
- Ask yourself if your tot is ready for the type of socialisation or playdate you are organising.
Little ones who bully often show aggression to parents and other adults as well. Don’t respond by smacking or using other aggressive methods, as this communicates that adults are allowed to be aggressive but children aren’t. This is a mixed message that will spiral out of control sooner or later.
How do we best know when to seek medical attention for bites, scratches, injuries or wounds?
Biting isn’t always a sign of bullying, instead, it’s often a means of expression. Many ‘biters’ simply use biting as a way to express their frustration, or because they are struggling to express themselves.
If the skin is punctured, simply wash it with soapy water or clean it with a disinfectant immediately and apply a healing cream like Calendula. Should you be concerned about the source of the ‘wound’, or you notice that healing is slow or that the wound gets progressively more inflamed, take your child for a check-up and possible treatment.
The best ways to deal with and prevent biting are to:
- Firmly show your tot that biting is not an acceptable means of expression
- Sharply reprimand the biter and then ignore her for a time
- Comfort the victim, but be careful not to encourage a victim mentality
- Learn to interpret your tot’s behaviour so that you can offer up a distraction when you see a possible situation building
- Ask yourself honestly whether you’re maybe skimping on quality time with your tot and this is a cry for attention
- Don’t bite your tot back, this just teaches that biting is wrong for some people and okay for other people – not the intended message!
I hope this post has offered some helpful tips for you. Poppet has bitten me, my husband, my mom and her nanny a few times and Sr Lilian has certainly given me some insight into this behaviour. I am assuming that this occurs when she is unable to express herself properly since she is now at the stage of beginning to rapidly increase her vocabulary.
With Love and Gratitude,
*This post is sponsored by Pampers but all views and opinions are my own.
Photos by Leigh Benson Photography
Other models are Poppet’s friends:
Playdate shoot locations:
- Monte Casino
- Life Baby South Africa at Life Day Spa Kids in Design Quarter.
About Poppet Patch:
My daughter, Sidney Grace (known as Poppet) and I started this journey together after I had a complication with a spinal block procedure during an emergency C section.
A Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak (CSF Leak) occurred causing my spinal fluid and fluid surrounding my brain to leak during her delivery. We only discovered this when she was already 7 weeks old. This left me with a brain injury and severely impaired speech so I turned to social media for expression of my creativity in an attempt to achieve the quickest possible recovery. That is how Poppet Patch was born and I recovered in record time.
Want to work with Poppet Patch? Contact us and let’s chat!