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Even the littlest kids deserve a buddy to play with. Follow these tips to make baby’s first meet-ups memorable.
babies playing side by side with moms

Looking to arrange a baby meet-up?

Notice we said meet-up—not playdate. That’s because babies don’t really play. At this point in their development, play is largely limited to baby’s interaction with you through reading, conversation, and physical contact. Socialization comes from strolls in the park, a trip to the market, or a visit to Grandma’s.

While meet-ups aren’t mandatory for the 0–2 set, setting up an occasional get-together with another baby close in age can be fun, for you and for baby. Plus, playdates offer opportunities to build social skills, boost self-esteem, explore new territory, and react to new faces. Just keep these tips in mind as your cutie explores new territory and greets new faces.

1. Choose companions wisely. Your preverbal baby can’t tell you who he wants to hang out with, so look for nonverbal cues by watching who makes him smile at home, and who he gravitates toward at childcare.

Ideally, you’ll want to arrange a meet-up with a child close in age. Kids with big personalities may overwhelm your baby. You may not want to match your reticent munchkin with a seriously bold and active baby or with a toddler if the mismatch is likely to trigger tears.

2. Make it manageable. Babies can participate or delight in activities listening to tunes, taking in the sights, and occupying the same general space without truly interacting.

Schedule a meet-up when your little one is well rested and well-fed—after breakfast, for example. Meet at someone’s house, exposing your little one to new sights and activities. Or catch up for a while at a zoo, park, playground, or library, where your baby can observe, explore, or toddle around safely. Wherever you go, watch the clock closely. A get-together that drags on too long, say, more than an hour, could be a recipe for disaster.

3. Stick around. Even the most adaptable, agreeable, and confident kids need support in a new environment, so stay put for the entire meet-up. Your baby or toddler needs supervision—even when other parents are present—to avoid injuries or coming into contact with harmful objects.

4. Remove electronics and other distractions. There’s no reason to arrange a meet-up if the time with another child is spent locked onto a screen or television. At this point in their development, babies grow by interacting with people.

5. Hide beloved toys. Even though they don’t share or play together—technically, babies certainly recognize when someone is encroaching on their territory or swiping an object they treasure. Keep prized possessions out of reach of other children. Amuse children with blocks and other toys multiple kids can play with.

6. Manage expectations. Anything can, and will, happen in baby meet-ups. Your outgoing guy may be uncharacteristically clingy. Your usually accommodating gal may become possessive. Preverbal kids can get fussy, angry, tearful, or have a meltdown without much warning. Anyone can have an off day, so adjust your expectations and keep them realistic.

7. Know the right way to end a meet-up. Babies and toddlers lack a sense of time, so consider saying, “You can play with one more puzzle and then we’ll put our coats on,” or set a timer and say, “The beep means it’s time to go home and play with your own toys.” If your toddler can talk or wave, teach her to say or wave good-bye, turning the fun meet-up into an etiquette lesson.

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