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How Toddlers Benefit From Playdates, No Matter How Lazily Supervised

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For the most part, you try to maintain some sort of structure to your days. So when it comes time for playdates, you might want to stick to a schedule, too. LEGOs from 1:00 to 1:15? Check. Quick healthy snack at 1:20? Already plated and on the table. But there’s something to be said for having a get-together that doesn’t have an agenda. In fact, how toddlers benefit from playdates, even lazily supervised ones, might surprise you.

It’s understandable why some parents might want to plan their playdates right down to the nanosecond. There’s nothing worse than finally settling the little ones down to a delightful activity… and then three minutes later (when you’re unwinding with your fellow parent), hearing the kids coming back into the room whining, “We’re boreddd!” (Cue the clenched teeth.)

Thing is, playdates should have plenty of time for, well, downtime. “When children have every minute structured for them, we stifle the benefits of play,” Roya Dedeaux, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper. “Unstructured play provides increased opportunities for creativity, divergent thinking, conflict management, communication skills, self-esteem, mastery, and better mental health," she continues. Kids learn how to communicate, compromise, and even (gasp) how to handle being bored — all without parental interference.

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So when you try to micromanage play time, what you’re inadvertently doing is squandering the opportunity for your child to learn through play. “Once playdates are really structured, they are less about play and more about someone else's idea of how the child should spend their time,” Natalie Mica, a licensed professional counselor in Houston, TX, explains to Romper. Essentially, the playdate becomes more about you and your vision of how it should flow, rather than kids just playing with, you know, boxes.

Plus, planning a playdate from start to finish can put a lot of pressure on parents. In fact, it can become so stressful that you might not even want to host one, which in turn robs you of the chance to connect with other parents. “We want our kids to learn and grow so much that we often put too much pressure on ourselves to constantly entertain and distract our kids,” Chelsea Brown, a Cyber Security Consultant for families, tells Romper. “But this isn’t healthy for parents to do, either.”

And ultimately, a well-planned playdate is kind of a disaster waiting to happen. Even if you have the most gorgeous glitter to play with, or that new toy that everyone wants, kids are kids, and they’re going to get bored — fast. Instead, opt for a semi-unstructured playdate. “Simply set out 2-3 activities like puzzles, block, car tracks, and craft activities for kids to pick through and do on their own,” advises Brown. “It takes the pressure off and allows everyone to relax and enjoy each other more.”

So while you can have some activities or toys lined up for the kids to play with, it’s really best to just let them make up their own games. They’ll have a great time, and so will you — guaranteed.

Sources:

Roya Dedeaux, a licensed marriage and family therapist

Natalie Mica, a licensed professional counselor in Houston, TX

Chelsea Brown, a Cyber Security Consultant for families