Sick of hearing "He took my toy!"? Here’s how to keep the good times going—and the whines at bay.
Leave them alone. "I try not to dominate playdates, which starts with being in a place where the kids can be safe without the mommies having to hover, like someone’s backyard or a local children’s museum or activity center," says Traci Rieser, a mother of one in Austin, Texas. "The kids learn to work things out between themselves. Of course, stepping in is sometimes necessary, but the kids have more fun when we let them explore their surroundings and relationships themselves."
Don’t sweat the sharing. "Sharing is not in a toddler’s vocabulary—this stage of development is still about parallel play," notes Julianna Lichatz, a Carbondale, Colorado-based movement teacher and play expert. That means toddlers may play beside each other, but they don’t really play with each other. "So while explaining and encouraging the concept of sharing is constructive, forcing it on small children is not." Kids start getting more interactive around age 3 or 4.
Distract! "A bottle of bubbles is like magic for toddlers: It can put an immediate end to a dispute over this toy or that toy," says Jenni Brighton, a mother of three in Homer, Alaska. "Logic and reasoning won’t work with a 2-year-old, but bubbles work every time."
Get physical. "Crawling, climbing, and rough-and-tumble play are ideal for toddlers’ developing physical coordination and senses," says Lichatz. "Toys that children can move—like push toys, balls, trucks, or cars— engage toddlers in this way, and are also great for imaginative and cooperative play."
Take it outside. "I’m part of a local mom’s group. Once or twice a week, a few of us will get together for an impromptu playdate at a nearby park or playground," says Pinky Yoshimoto, a mother of one in Waipahu, Hawaii. "It doesn’t require any serious planning or cleanup, which is great for me, and my son loves it!"
Have a theme. "We’ve created a playgroup with three other families—we all met in daycare several years ago—and come up with creative activities for each get-together," says Liz Weirshousky, a mother of two from Bethesda, Maryland. "We recently did a cake-decorating party, where we bought little round cakes from the supermarket with plain white frosting. Each kid got to add colored frosting and sprinkles to their hearts’ content. It’s a blast!"