It’s natural to want your child to grow up to have plenty of friends. Playmates and social connections made at this early age may or may not last, but there is plenty to be gained by developing social skills at a young age. For toddlers, it’s most important to teach them to use expressive words and to share their space.

Ways to find a play partner:

Your friends

If your friends have children around the same age as yours, this is a natural place to start. Of course, it’s nice to be friends with the parents of your child’s friends. It’s always good to keep in mind, though, that just because you are friends with the other child’s parents, it doesn’t mean your children will be friends.

Find people in your neighborhood

Are there people you see regularly at a nearby playground, and is your child excited to see them time after time? Approach the parents or caregivers to see if they’d be open to a play date.

Ask daycare

If your toddler is in daycare or attends a therapy group, ask the teacher who your child naturally plays with or likes to be around.

A local class

Look for toddler classes in or near your town. Some classes to look for are music classes, gymnastics classes, and Mommy-and-Me classes.

The play date:

Choose a location

The right location is very child-dependent. Your child might be most comfortable playing at home. For some kids there might be too many distractions at home or toys they won’t be able to share. In that case you could try a playground or the local library.

Don’t hover

Be available if your child needs you but stay mostly out of the way. Kids will work out most of their own playtime problems—after all that’s mostly the point of this practice. This is also a great time for you to socialize.

Parallel play

For children 2-3 years of age, you’ll notice that they won’t so much play together as they will play separately near each other. While it doesn’t seem like they notice each other, this is an essential early stage of child development that will eventually lead to higher levels of socialization.

Plan some backup activities

Ask the other parent or caregiver what their child enjoys doing and plan some possible activities. That way, if the children start off shy or fail to warm up to each other, you can help them get into the groove of it.

 One hour is plenty of time

Being in a new place with new people can be draining—no need to over-do it.

After the play date is over, make sure to talk with your child about the experience and praise the positive things you saw. Ask what they enjoyed playing most and if they’d like to have another play date.

Here’s to the beginning of a lifetime of friendships.