Sometimes, finding opportunities for kids to connect with each other is as simple as showing up at the community playground or knocking on the neighbors’ door. But other times, you might need your child’s playtime with a friend to be a little less spontaneous.
Whether your child wants to play with a certain classmate or you’re hoping to make some new friends, playdates are a way to coordinate a pre-arranged playtime with others. But there aren’t any set rules to scheduling one for your children. You can plan a one-on-one playdate, or a group outing—plan set activities, or leave it up to the kids.
But figuring out what to do on a playdate naturally raises a series of questions—how should my child be interacting with others? Is this beneficial for my child? What is a playdate, really? We’re here to clear up some of the mysteries of playdates: their structure, their purpose, and how they can shape your child’s relationships with themselves and their surroundings.
Why are Playdates Important for Children?
While on the surface it might look like a regular playdate is nothing more than a couple of kids enjoying each other’s company, any time spent at play together is ultimately instrumental to their growth and development.
According to developmental psychology, play is an activity that allows children to realize their capacity to create, make decisions, and explore the world around them with an imaginative mind. Not only are they building social connections—they’re also building mental connections through active learning.
Let’s explore these ideas in a bit more detail:
Developing Strong Social Skills
When children engage in social play, they’ll likely be exposed to situations they haven’t seen before. A child can learn spatial awareness at home, but time spent playing and connecting with other children will introduce them to crucial social-emotional skills, such as:
- Problem-solving with others
- Listening carefully
- Negotiating different opinions
- Self-regulating emotions
- Using effective communication
Learning important social skills for kids in interactive play can greatly benefit your child: once they obtain these interpersonal skills, they can then apply them in other aspects of their life, like in the classroom or at home with siblings. And, if they’re actively putting what they learned to use, that opens the door to more friends and a well-developed social circle, only further solidifying these skills.
Connecting the Brain’s Building Blocks
As your child learns how to interact with others, they are also developing their senses of cognition. Cognition includes the ways our minds think about and process ideas, but it can also be important for how we interact with each other—and how we understand these interactions.
A puzzle is a perfect metaphor for this aspect of playdates. As kids work together on a puzzle, each of them is, in turn, thinking through different possibilities, ideas, combinations, and abstract concepts. In other words, they are testing and placing together the puzzle pieces in their minds. This leads them to develop:
- Knowledge of cause and effect
- Imagination and ideation
- Creativity and craftiness
- Extended concentration
- Self-sourced resilience
If a child has a firm hold on these techniques, they are much more likely to gain independence and learn how to practice self-acceptance earlier on in their development. Playing together with other children also allows them to think and make decisions on their terms and learn about how to connect with others.
What If My Child Doesn’t Want to Play at a Playdate?
If you show up to a carefully planned playdate only to find that your child prefers to play on their own, don’t distress. Your child’s playdates will naturally look different depending on the age of your child. Because behaviors and curiosities change as your child grows up, their style of play—and thus their playdate—will shift with the needs of their growing minds.
In late infancy and toddlerhood, a majority of children will engage in parallel play—meaning, if they’re around other toddlers, they won’t necessarily interact or collaborate. Some younger children (as well as some older children, too) prefer to comfortably stick to their solo activities, not yet inviting others to their space.
Though it might look antisocial, this play style is instrumental to a child’s progression. Your toddler will learn by observing and sensing, rather than directly socializing with, their peers. In mimicking others, toddlers may discover a new way to play with a favorite toy or expand their vocabulary.
After about age three to four, children enter the “cooperative play” stage, in which kids have fun together through speaking, creating, imagining, and exploring as a group. In cooperative play, children often work together to reach a common goal or objective, like when they jointly play a new game or create a make-believe world.
As your child grows older, you can invite them to have more input on the types of activities they’d like to do on playdates—and who they’d like to play with. Allowing them to play a part in deciding the structure of their playtime can lead the way to even more connection and help you continue parenting with confidence.
Plan a Playdate with Slumberkins
At Slumberkins, we understand that play is a keystone for young children’s development, encouraging them toward a fuller grasp of the world around them and building connections along the way.
With a committed background in family counseling and education, we work to craft the tools your child needs to approach and embrace emotional learning, both individually and interpersonally—ensuring success at all steps of the playdate.
Building connections is fundamental to helping a child grow up with confidence. Our “Connect-to-Grow '' approach takes this truth to heart, helping your child establish healthy relationships, honor themselves and their experiences, and learn by engaging.
Our cuddly Snugglers make your child feel comfortable and safe, and, in so doing, give them the space to imagine and world-build with their fuzzy friend. Be it our Unicorn plush who teaches self-acceptance or our mindfulness-guiding Yeti—your child can get comfy and get learning, adopting the emotional expertise that inspires confidence, resilience, and connection.
- Pathways Organization. How Kids Learn to Play: 6 Stages of Play Development. https://pathways.org/kids-learn-play-6-stages-play-development/
- Very Well Family. Attending or Hosting a Playdate for Toddlers. https://www.verywellfamily.com/toddler-play-dates-tips-for-attending-or-hosting-290408
- Healthline. What is Cooperative Play? https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/cooperative-play#definition
- Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority. The importance of play in children’s learning and development. https://www.startingblocks.gov.au/other-resources/factsheets/the-importance-of-play-in-children-s-learning-and-development
- American Academy of Pediatrics. The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/142/3/e20182058/38649/The-Power-of-Play-A-Pediatric-Role-in-Enhancing
- RIchard Lavoie. It’s So Much Work to be Your Friend. https://www.ldonline.org/ld-topics/adhd/books/its-so-much-work-be-your-friend-helping-child-learning-disabilities-find
- Parenting Science. Benefits of Play. https://parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play/