My toddler doesn’t get to interact with too many kids his age. If he’s not with his parents, he’s at my aunt’s. Sure, he has cousins and even a few play mates, but we don’t see them on a regular basis. On one hand, I’m perfectly fine with this—I tend to think that children actually benefit from adult-oriented interactions than peer-oriented ones. But I also understand the important skills he’ll learn by mixing with other kids his age.
When my toddler was about eight months old, I signed up for a local mommy group. The group was active, but most of the kids were either too old or too young for my eight-month-old to play with. And with the exception of a few moms (one of whom I’m still friends with today), I also didn’t feel welcomed or comfortable. After a few play dates, I left the group.
So I started my own mommy group. I narrowed down the criteria to babies born within three months of my toddler who lived near by. Finally, I felt like I could at least be that welcoming committee that I sorely needed in the other group I left. I could plan fun play dates and outings. And I could meet many friendly moms, almost all of them close to my baby’s age. But since my group was so narrow, I didn’t have a wide membership. I also felt obligated to schedule and attend a zillion play dates that eventually wore down on my I-go-by-my-own-schedule baby. Plus, considering that running the mom group cost money that I couldn’t afford on my own, I had to close the group down.
While mommy groups provided the interactions I sought for my toddler to practice his social skills, they are far from what I consider a “village” type of community. We don’t have friendships with other families where we regularly get together, and where parents are friends among one another just as much as the kids are.
In my ideal world, we—children and adults—would develop close friendships so that our interactions aren’t solely for the kids’ sake, it’s for the adults’ too. My nieces and nephews have this relationship already—there’s a good group of them who are close in age, and my siblings and I love getting together among ourselves as well.
As a kid, I was lucky because not only did I have siblings to play with, I also had cousins who lived right next door. Every day was a new adventure, whether it was to dance to Foot Loose in a darkened room with flash lights, pretend to be the A-Team (I was Murdock), mold play dough or build forts out of blankets. Even without cousins, I remember playing with neighborhood kids who usually went to our school. Making friends was easy.
Nowadays, not so much. Granted, my toddler is only two and isn’t exactly knocking on the neighbor’s door asking to play. But I find that parents initiate most of the social interactions. We sign them up for Gymboree or music class. We schedule play dates with friends who also have kids. And we attend mommy groups.
I’m actually happy that my toddler still prefers his parents over peers and that he doesn’t have friends trying to undermine our authority and guidance (“Kids rule… parents drool!” *rolls eyes*). At the same time, I’d still like for him to navigate the waters of socializing with kids his age and learn how to be kind, assert himself, communicate clearly, build his imagination, and all the other benefits of playing with kids.
So in my quest to find my toddler more opportunities to practice his social skills, I joined another mommy group. Except this one is a parents group, with moms and dads included. We attended our first play date at a local park yesterday and actually had a great time. Hopefully he’ll continue learning how to make friends, even if his mom and dad signed him up for it.
What are your thoughts on mommy groups, play dates and classes for kids? Why do you think there’s a proliferation of mommy groups and classes for kids?
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