Along with wanting our kids to be happy and healthy, we all hope that they’ll be – let’s be honest here – popular. We want our kids to be social, with lots of friends and lots of fun things to do after school and on weekends. And to that end, we start them young by joining baby playgroups.
I clearly remember the first time I took my infant son to one. I hadn’t been living in the town long, and I didn’t know many people. Someone told me about the new moms’ playgroup, and I thought it would be a good way for my new son to make friends.
Play date for mom, too
I went to a complete stranger’s house, and was instructed to put my son down on the floor in the center of the room with all the other babies. None of the babies were more than six months old – they weren’t even sitting up on their own yet. So there they lay, sometimes kicking their legs and sometimes cooing or crying a bit, while the mommies sat in a circle around them with tea and coffee and scones. The grownups in attendance included fascinating women I might never have met in my normal life – including a concert violinist – and I remember how much I enjoyed the adult conversation after so much time home alone with a newborn. Then it hit me: this wasn’t really a baby playdate; it was a mommy playdate!
The fact is, child development experts say that infants can’t really interact with each other during the first year of life, and even during the second year they mostly engage in what’s called “parallel play.” Even when it seems as if babies are staring at each other, or you observe one touching another, or grabbing something, it’s really not meaningful interaction. Child development experts don’t really know yet whether this early time with other babies makes a difference in development. True interactive play doesn’t start until around age two. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t get younger babies together with other babies. It just means that you shouldn’t feel pressured to take your baby on play dates unless you want to go, too.
If you do, here are some guidelines to make the occasion fun for you and your little one:
Choose a group you feel compatible with, since you’ll be doing more socializing than your baby. Ask your girlfriends, your work colleagues, or other people you know if they know of a group, or form one yourself if you’ve made friends with other local new moms.
Don’t expect your hostess to provide supplies or even toys to share. You still need to bring your fully packed diaper bag with diapers and wipes, snacks, a change of clothing, toys, etc.
Playgroups aren’t childcare. You are still responsible for your baby while you’re with other moms. That means feeding, changing diapers, cleaning up vomit or other messes, soothing her when she cries.
Be careful with what you say about other people’s babies. New moms can be sensitive, everyone has different concerns, and a casual remark about another baby’s chubby little cheeks or thighs could make you unwelcome at the next gathering.
Know when it’s time to leave. If your baby seems agitated, over stimulated, cranky, or outright miserable, it’s time to go home, no matter how great the adult conversation is or how delicious the homemade muffins are.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.