playdates for toddlers

How to Have Effective Playdates for Toddlers

Putting two toddlers together for a playdate with no structure or direction is sure to produce a hilarious/adorable/potentially hazardous result. I stopped over and brought something to a friend the other day and as soon as our littles saw each other, they clasped hands and immediately started spinning in circles while giggling and shrieking – eventually bumping into the coffee table. It was very cute and had both of us moms going, “Oooh, oh, honey? Um, slow…maybe, just go a little…um, do you girls want to color…maybe?” That’s why playdates for toddlers need to have at least a little structure to help you get through the day without any bumps or bruises.

Toddlers left to their own imaginations can be wonderful and magical and really funny, but kids (at any age) really thrive in semi-structured fun. You don’t want to be rigid and squelch those sweet spirits, but it will help both moms and kids to have some sort of a plan.


Being Play Date Manager

As much as you want to make your little prince or princess into a perfectly well mannered cherub, fight the urge to step in unnecessarily. Toddlers don’t really play with each other as much as the play by each other. It’s called parallel play and it’s completely normal. What it basically looks like is Bobby and Frankie sitting side by side. Bobby sees Frankie ride his truck in a circle, and then he rides his in a circle too. They are learning. They are normal. Don’t try to force them to interact. That will naturally begin to happen when they exit toddlerhood and enter pre-school age.

As far as behavior, YES – if your child is biting or yelling or hitting or being awful, by all means, step in. But, if Bobby grabs a truck out of Frankie’s grasp, give it a second before you rush to the rescue. A lot of the time, Frankie won’t even care. Give them freedom to learn how to interact without you stepping in too quickly, unless you need to.


Toddler Proofing reminds moms to make sure their homes are toddler proofed for “outside toddlers.” You probably forget because your kid knows your rules. Your kid knows not to touch that glass violin figurine on the bookshelf, but an outside toddler won’t. When my daughter was two, I can remember taking her over to a friend’s house who had just given birth. My friend said, “Your daughter is showing me what I need to childproof before my little one starts moving around!” It’s true. Toddlers are magnets to danger and breakable things. So, give your place a once over and move whatever needs moving; cushion whatever needs cushioning.


Timing is Everything

Coordinate with the other mom and find out when nap times and meal times happen. You don’t want to put two toddlers together when one is starving and one is exhausted. Most babies and toddlers tend to have regular nap and meal times at similar intervals, so schedule play dates for times when both toddlers will be alert and happy, if possible.

Also, at the toddler stage, half an hour to an hour is plenty. That may seem short to you, Mom, but for a toddler, anything longer than that and the crankiness will escalate real quick.


Age Difference

A little age difference can go a long way. While toddler play dates are great, you might want to incorporate some play dates in with older and younger kids. Letting your toddler play with an older child is really good for them. They look up to “big kids” and the big kids can help guide them in learning how to play and interact with others.  It’s also good to let your child get used to being around babies. Having your child play with younger children or babies is a good lesson in patience and gentleness.


Get Control of Your Environment

This, I learned from experience. You don’t want to have every toy in your house accessible to kids coming over for a play date unless you want to clean up a typhoon-level mess at the end of that hour-of-fun. After some trial and error, I learned it was wise to have certain things set out and easy to get to – blocks, coloring, certain dolls. I would stash away other things that made huge messes. It just limits the chaos and helps with clean up time.

How do you handle/structure your toddler’s play dates? Let us know in the comments section below!



It really sucks being older with a toddler. I’m 29 years old and my daughter is 17 months. All of my friends have big kids (like 5 and up) so I never have anyone for my baby to play with and she’s an only child. Anyone in the Columbus, OH area who’d like play dates?

What age is good to start having play dates? I have a 14mo who is going crazy at home and I have some mommy friends with children her age, but I also have a 1mo. Is she too young to bring around other children?

“Does anyone else get Annoyed when you have a play date and the other parent is all like, “My child has to be gluten free because I don’t want my child exposed to something that might hurt her” or “I don’t allow my child to have red dye #27” OR “I don’t think schools should allow candy or pizza because it’s bad for children” End rant”

Just a statement, I really wish I had mommy friends in town where I can just hang out with and kids could have play dates with…

Ok Smart Moms! I have a 2.5 year old daughter & lately she has become much more aggressive, bossy, yelling and having quite the attitude. She got kicked out of Sunday school for pushing & hitting friends. We disciplined her by taking all her toys out of her bed and she was devastated and seemed to “get it”. But the last two days at play dates she has pushed again several times and then put her hands around a little girls’ neck. I was MORTIFIED. We do time outs, safe/gentle hands, taking toys away

I am just wondering do moms survive without going on play dates and making any sort of mom friends their age? Can I just wait until my oldest is in school? Do moms do this?

What are your thoughts about boy/girl play dates? School aged? Good idea or no? My 8 year old daughter who’s 8 has a friend a boy who’s also 8 and want to have a play date at his house. My thoughts are play dates are fine but pick a public spot say a plan for parents to meet at the park with the kids instead of his house or our house. I don’t think having boy friends are bad but playdates should be a little different.. What u think?

My son finally had his first play date while visiting friends back home. I was totally treated poorly by the other moms because of the fact that I allow my son to use a binkie. I didn’t realize this was such taboo. Also why are moms so competitive? Thought this would be fun. Seems like it’s all about who kids do what first. Didn’t think it mattered. Also my son isn’t used to being around chaos and lots of other kids and they said its cuz I stay home with him and he doesn’t do daycare!! Wtf?!

I see so many moms on here who are either single moms or SAHM who often feel lonely because they are home all day with the kids. I too am one of them. Just wish there was a way we could all get together for a massive play date. I think that would be so much fun. #IfOnly


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About Scarlet Hiltibidal

Scarlet has written for and managed various publications - her articles reaching over 38 million readers. She has a degree in counseling and worked as a 4th grade teacher before entering the media realm. Currently, she writes for Smart Mom and is also writing children's curriculum for a church in Miami. Her favorite things to do are tell her husband every thought that crosses her mind, play with her two little girls, and connect with other moms on the SmartMom app! Visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter @ScarletEH.