Play Dates: Should My Toddler Be “Practicing”?

Did you notice I inadvertently scheduled two posts for yesterday at the same time?  Oops.  I also had to ask my Husband three times yesterday if it was Wednesday and I nearly cried when I realized I ate all the pretzels.  Yesterday was Wednesday right?  Don’t worry, I’m planning to diagnose my deteriorating mental state on WebMD during nap time today.

Anyway, you recall we visited with Chris’ family on Sunday morning.  He has a sister who is very kind and very helpful.  She’s always making all kinds of good suggestions about where to find this product or that product at a reduced price.  Or suggesting good places to visit, good books to read. . .Yes.  She does not have children.

So while we were at brunch, she mentioned that she knew a couple of folks with really “nice” 3 and 4-year-old children in the area in case I ever wanted to schedule a time for Mac to play with them.

And I just about snorted my coffee for a couple of reasons. . .(Oh Play Dates, How I Dread Thee):

1.  The area she was referring to was a minimum of a 40 minute car ride from our home.  There are at least 6 other children ON OUR BLOCK in the newborn to 4 year age range.  If Mac wants to play with a kid, I’m not driving him 40+ minutes to do it. . .

2.  Well, unless that kid’s parent also happens to be a close friend of mine. . . We have several friends in that situation and it’s so sad, but we hardly ever seem to be able to get our schedules to mesh.  I miss my own long-time friends.  I don’t necessarily need to make more parent “friends” just because they have children of a similar age to my own.

3.  Furthermore, Mac still hasn’t moved into the developmental stage where he actually WANTS to play with other children.  He’s around other children frequently – at church, at the playground, in the park, at friends’ homes.  So far, he’s still engaging in the “parallel play” phase where he’s perfectly happy to amuse himself with something while other children do the same in his vicinity.  He loves watching other children but he’s not ready to participate yet.  I’m completely fine with this.  I’m in no rush to drag him to 4 different birthday parties every weekend.  

4.  And furthermore, the longer I can prolong Mac’s realization that there is a plethora of ridiculous over-priced, plastic, small parts laden children’s toys available and other kids HAVE these things, I’m happy to do it.  That and cake pops.  If I NEVER have to make cake pops, I’ll die happy. (What kind of sicko wants a damned little ball of cake on a stick when you could have an entire cupcake or slice of cake anyway?)

5.  The pressure that accompanies a “play date” with parents I don’t know well, far exceeds the pressure I felt while taking the Bar Exam.  Is my house clean enough?  Do I have appropriate activities “scheduled”?  “Will the clown I booked for entertainment show up drunk again? Is my kid going to keep his hands out of his pants this time?  It’s insane.

I tried to briefly explain the idea of Mac still being in the “parallel play” phase and Sister-In-Law asked “Shouldn’t he be practicing playing with other children?”  Yeah.  No.  Not yet.  If he’s not interested in engaging with other children, then the “practice” aspect is sort of just an uncomfortable exercise for everyone.  Yes, I want to raise an appropriately social, well-mannered little boy but I’m not going to force social skills on him until he’s actually ready.

And furthermore, who practices playing?  When I was growing up, there were a few kids of a similar age who lived on our block.  Once we were ready, our parents basically threw us into the back yard with a tricycle and some sticks and told us not to come back inside until called for lunch.

And it worked.

We didn’t have scheduled “craft time,” or “music enrichment,” or clowns and ponies and cake pops.  We went to the A&P to buy toilet paper for my friend Angie’s Mom – every day. Yes.  Every day.  (How smart was that of her Mother to give us something useful to do, learn about handling money, and get rid of us for 10 minutes?!)  We rode our bikes.  Sometimes we beat each other with sticks.  But we learned to share, we learned to cooperate, we learned to care about one another’s feelings.

The current state of organized “play dates” blows my mind.  Sure, once in a while, it’s awesome if a parent wants to invite a few kids over for lunch and a craft.  I think it’s a great idea.  I do not however, believe finger sandwiches, fruit cut into heart shapes, and live entertainment are necessary for every single “play date.”  Nor do I believe parents should feel the pressure they do to provide such amenities.

The bottom line is:  my kid’s not ready for all of this.  And frankly, neither am I.

So Mac can keep parallel playing for as long as he likes. . .Hopefully by the time he is ready to actively play with other children, cake pops will have fallen out of favor. . .

I'm just going to stomp around in this puddle and watch all the other kids, thanks.

I’m just going to stomp around in this puddle and watch all the other kids, thanks.

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24 thoughts on “Play Dates: Should My Toddler Be “Practicing”?

  1. I LOATHE play dates! ….unless it’s a good friend and we’re using our children as an excuse to get together.
    I feel like they put me and my kid under a microscope; strangers judging how my kid shares (or doesn’t share), how I respond to behavioral issues, the snacks I serve (which are rarely preservative free), etc. No thanks!
    Between my friends, the gym, and preschool, I think we’ll skip them!

    • I’m so glad I’m not alone! I’m hoping between the children on this block (who will presumably attend one of the two nearby pre-K’s and our own friend’s children, we won’t have to schedule “blind” play dates. . .My stomach clenches at the thought of it!

  2. THANK YOU for posting this. My child isn’t overly interested in other children, either, and my recent experience with the mom from hell in that gymnastics class that nearly broke my child’s foot made me realize I’m not really ready for play dates, either. I like getting out in the day and chatting with people, but I like doing it on my own schedule. And having people over? No thanks. 🙂

    From what I’ve seen in the few classes I’ve done, all of the other kids this age have zero interest in one another, so save yourself the aggravation of play dates and have a cocktail with me over Twitter instead!!!

    • Thanks!

      Before Mac, I always did assume (as my SIL, did) that children naturally want to play together. But that’s obviously not always the case. And at this stage, I’m just not comfortable forcing this issue.

      It’s sort of like all the other skills he should be developing – the potty is here but I won’t force him to use it (yet ha!), the fork is there, but if eating with your fingers is more effective, fine. . .etc. I’m not going to pressure a toddler.

      I’ll happily Twitter toast your sensible parenting skills! 🙂

      Is your Daughter’s leg feeling better? I was thinking about her yesterday when Mac kept insisting he play on the “big kid’s” playground gear – it’s really tall and I didn’t want him falling.

      I saw a Tweet that your Husband is feeling improved thank goodness!

  3. you are spot-on here as far as I am concerned. and far more in tune with your kid than I was with my first – I had no concept of “parallel play” until I expressed concern over The Kid’s “anti-social behavior” to a couple of preschool directors and they assured me that was completely normal.

    god love the childless advice giver – I was one of them once and I deeply regret it. my friend just smiled nicely and said, “that’s a very good idea” – whether she followed through on any of my unsolicited, uninformed advice I don’t know, but I LOVE her for not making me feel like the asshole I was for opening my mouth on shit I knew nothing about.

    • Thanks! You don’t know until you have children. Even if you have a doctorate degree in child development (or whatever), unless you are actually raising children, you Do. Not. Know.

      Like your friend, I listen to the advice or thoughts I’m offered – no matter the source. I figure it can’t hurt. Do I disregard most of it? Of course. Ha!

      PS – while I knew Mac’s behavior around other children seemed “normal” from observing other children his age, I didn’t realize it had a term until I read about it a few months ago in one of the child development books we have. . .(I was desperately searching for indoor play ideas for toddlers! Ha). So I can’t take too much credit for being “in tune.” 😉

  4. Ugh! Play dates are horrible for normal kids, even worse when you have a child with special needs. My daughter is 4 1/2 and non verbal among other things. I just LOVE it (load sarcasm here) when well intentioned people suggest that if I just get her in more play groups with her peers that will fix everything.

    • I can only imagine how you must have to bite your tongue!

      My Sister has spent her entire career working with adults with a variety of special needs so I am a little familiar with some of the challenges those folks have when while navigating in the sometimes ignorant, miss-informed world of “normal” people.

      Of course, as you said, people have good intentions but they just don’t realize how insensitive some of their remarks truly are.

      Which kinda’ also makes me grouchy about kids who are perhaps developmentally on track but still different in some way. People seem very preoccupied with children doing things they believe a child “should be doing.”

      As you well know, especially given your Daughter’s needs, every child has remarkable gifts. We should be encouraging those and embracing their individuality instead of expecting them to conform to our adult ideas about how they should act or what they should be doing.

      • I am just thankful most people don’t have the balls to say anything to me. I am tall, serious seeming, and quiet so I come off as intimidating I guess 🙂 Saves me from actually having to be a raging bitch – lol! If they only knew I am deeply sarcastic and have a demented sense of fatalistic humor they wouldn’t want their kids to have play dates with mine anyway!

    • I agree. The term itself is ridiculous.

      “Practicing playing.” I don’t know. I assume what she meant was shouldn’t he be learning how to share and interact with other children. Which of course, he will learn but I don’t see any point in trying to teach those sorts of skills until he’s ready.

      I think I should make him a shirt that says “I don’t do blind play dates.” Ha.

  5. Our playdates are mostly playdates for us… we invite people we like over who also have kids. Then we let the kids play while we visit and drink coffee.

    Occasionally we’ll test out a new family, but not often.

    They’re not as bad as you might think – or maybe we’re not actually doing real playdates.

    • I’m more concerned about the “play dates” that involve parents I don’t know. The ones where we visit our adult friends should be great! It sounds to me like you are definitely doing them “right”! 🙂

  6. I truly believe today’s parents make parenting far more complicated than it has to be. As far as I’m concerned you’re spot on! As a child I was the same as your’s. My mother once told me I was not a big player with other children. I played pretend all by myself by the hour, and was quite content. And as long as I was content, so were my parents. And you know what? Today I have no problem going fishing or whatever all by myself. I can literally be my own best friend. And yet I know so many others who simply cannot function unless they’re with someone else. And, who knows, their lives may have evolved from the very subject of your post. Anyway, kudos!

    • Well, Thank you!

      I liked playing with other children and I still like being social sometimes. But like you, I was and still am perfectly content doing something alone – for hours or days on end. . .I spent plenty of time reading alone in my room when I was younger and if I could get away with it, I still would! Ha.

      We’ll try to offer balance for our son. Everyone has their own opinions. There’s no 100% correct method of parenting. . .and it’s a huge learning curve. . .but we all get through it in the end. . .and then we can’t believe it went by so quickly!

      Hope you had a great visit with the Grand-twins last night! (or night before?)

  7. Pingback: Agent of Karma, Redux | Nothing By The Book

  8. Practice playing? What the heck is THAT?? I was in no hurry to throw my son to the wolves, a.k.a. other children, when he was Mac’s age, as well. I was perfectly content hanging with little dude by myself and he seemed content. And like Mac, when we were around other kids, he just seemed to do the parallel play anyway. But I’ll tell you what, when he turned two, it seemed like a switch was flipped and he was hungry to play with other children. It was embarrassing. He’d get all up in their faces and try to talk to them. I was comforted that he always played nicely with them but it sure kicked me out of the cocoon I had woven for us. I was forced to get him out to the children’s museum and the parks, even though I was a nervous wreck being around all those other moms (Will he play nicely? Will he share? Will he ask loudly if he can have a “beer”, too, when he sees another kid with a can of Sprite?) But that’s a whole ‘nother topic. Ha!

    • Thanks for the comment! I think we’re starting to slowly flip that “switch” you mentioned. Yesterday we were at the park and one little boy had a ball. Mac approached the boy and made for his ball! The little boy protested and Mac gave it right back. BUT that was the first time I had ever seen Mac remotely interested in participating. And just like you, we take him to the park, the museums, etc. and as soon as I know he’s prepared to “play” I’m going to be a nervous wreck. What if he bites? What if he only wants to play with children with snot dripping out of every visible orifice? Everyone will be watching. THE PRESSURE!!

      (You worry about the beer. . .Wait until my kid realizes not every Mother has a flask in her backpack! LOL!)

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