As a parent of two little “angels” myself, as well as a speech-language pathologist, I frequently hear concerns from parents about their children's’ socialization. Often, parents mention a child’s behavior if the child has an excessively hard time separating from one or both parents, doesn’t enjoy or care to play with other children or is developmentally behind. My number one suggestion in response to these types of concerns is to get out of the house and get your kid around other kids/people.
Playdates are nothing new.
It doesn’t have to be out of this world creative OR out of this world expensive. Our parents’ version of playdates was for us to play outside with all the other kids in the neighborhood — banished from the house to play outside until dinnertime. So, we needn’t be so hard on ourselves.
Playdates don’t have to break the bank.
You don’t have to be a Pinterest mom or have an extra $500 a month to send your kid to a program or a million activities. These commonsense suggestions are all things that, when you are so focused on changing diapers and nap schedules, you probably just haven’t thought of recently.
Children learn well from other children that are around their same age. After they get past the initial rage that they may feel when someone takes a toy they were so blissfully enjoying by themselves (only halfway kidding … sharing is hard for toddlers, y’all!), children will begin to pick up on “the way things go.” Turn-taking, saying please and thank you, how to share, how to play, how to use language or gestures to communicate. This is the kind of peer pressure that I like when it comes to dealing with kids.
We try to have plenty of opportunities on our schedule to interact with other kids (and moms), or else we’d sit at home in pajamas, eating PB&Js and Goldfish®, watching Disney® movies all day. (I just described my day yesterday, by the way.)
Top 5 on-the-cheap socialization ideas.
Here are the top things on our schedule for free ankle-biter socialization:
- Library Story Time. So much goodness in this one. First of all, it is FREE.99. Second, there are literally books everywhere! And third, story time (of any nature, really) is a great joint attention activity, which teaches the ability to interact with an object and a person (play together) simultaneously. Plus, in addition to being around other little whippersnappers, it is a structured, adult-led activity in most cases, and kiddos also learn (with some practice) to sit down and listen for a couple of minutes. You can usually find a library calendar on their website, or you can call them and ask the librarian for when their story time is
- Fast food play area. Chick-fil-A® is our go-to. But you could go to a McDonald’s. Or whatever your local fast food chain of preference with a play area is. In our small town, the Chick-fil-A is ALWAYS packed. It is the place to be. We always see someone we know, and even if it isn’t on the agenda, my kids always want to play longer than I want to stay. What I love about these play areas is that (unless your kid is super little), the play area is total kid land. I wouldn’t be surprised if they hung a sign on the door that said: “no parents allowed.” They are on their own in there, to fend for themselves and figure out kid politics, with me on the other side of the glass making sure they are coming down the slide in a timely manner, not walking around with their shoes on and relatively tear-free. Pro-tip: whenever I know the play area is on our schedule for the day, I make sure to pack my hand sanitizer! The kids rarely want to go wash their hands in the bathroom after playing, but I feel like the germ factor is higher with the play area than my other suggestions. (Who am I kidding? Germs are everywhere!)
- Sunday school. Now, I’m not saying to go to church just to socialize your kids! I’m not saying that. That’d be like me telling you to get a gym membership just so you can go get an uninterrupted shower each day while your kid is in the kid zone (which I have TOTALLY recommended before — that’s a good tip!). Especially if your child isn’t accustomed to being without you or doesn’t prefer to be around other kids, taking them to the kid’s ministry at the church/synagogue/mosque/place of worship of your choice is a great way to give them the opportunity to have a short kid social hour. Plus, unlike story time or even the fast food play area, your kids would get some socialization without you present. Kids tend to act a lot differently (and sometimes cling) to parents if they are around, so not being there (but being close by) is a nice opportunity for them to grow socially without you around.
- Mother’s day out programs. So, I know this one is not free, but it’s worth mentioning because I know a lot of moms who have done what I am about to recommend to you. If you would love to have your kid in a program a couple of days a week for the purpose of getting your kids around other kids, but the tuition is out of your price range, consider calling the director of the program and asking if you could fill a position within the program so your child could get a discounted rate (or go for free).
- Playdate. This is a “duh” one, but I do have a special piece of advice as it pertains to socialization. I went to a parenting class once because my child is excessively strong-willed and trying to send me to the looney bin (more on that later) and this child psychologist said something that made so much sense to me, so I will share. She said to try to find playdates with kids who are similar to your child (as far as temperament). Her reasoning behind this was that kids of similar temperament may play better together, thus increasing the actual socialization that is occurring.
Socialization opportunities are everywhere.
A general suggestion: Take advantage of the time you are carting your kid around as you run errands! While it may be tempting to give them a toy or a tablet to keep them entertained while you are at the grocery store or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, in the absence of entertainment a child will almost always find a way to do something — including talking to people or observing the interactions and happenings around them. Don’t underestimate the power of boredom when it comes to learning about the world around you!
Now, go socialize your kiddos without going broke!
Tara Boyd, a North Texas pediatric speech therapist and mother of two, to Beulah (“Boo”) and Lucy (“Lu”), dishes practical advice on marriage, motherhood and munchies with humor and southern charm in her blog Boyd Meets Girl.