Although at two your child has friends and favorite companions, his friendships do not look like your friendships or even the way they will look in just a year or two. Currently his friendships center around children who want to play with the same toys (often at the same time). Two-year-olds understand that some children play with dolls, some with blocks, and some with balls. They like the children who play with the toys they like.
Two-year-old children know that some people are boys and some girls, using superficial clues (hair length, clothes) to figure out who is which. At this age many boys' and girls' favorite toys often divide along stereotypical gender lines. When you arrange play dates between your child and children of the opposite sex, however, they typically do not mind being together.
From the age of two to three, your child's friendships revolve around one or two children he sees in day care or with you. In other words, his friendships are based on physical proximity and time spent together. These experiences of finding activities to do together and of trying to share help your child get used to the basics of friendship.
Many two-year-olds like to play with an older child, whom they often idolize and mimic. Usually this is a good way of learning habits and behaviors that will help them play with others as they get older. But they can't help learning some negative behaviors, too (from the older child, that is). In this case, just remember that your two-year-old isn't distinguishing between what's acceptable and what's not; he's just acting like the big kid.
Play dates consist of a number of variables, such as amount of time spent together, number of children involved, and whether all the parents stay or just drop their children off, returning in an hour or more. The key to a good play date is communicating with other parents.
My son has trouble when children come to our house, but he behaves well in others' homes. Why?
He may have trouble sharing his own toys or even sharing you. Some children are territorial and just become bothered by having other children in their space. Reassure your child that the other children are only visiting, his toys still belong to him, you are still his parent, and you love him the most.
For two-year-olds, a play date is often best kept short. An hour or two is ideal; this allows the visiting child to check out all the toys. Typically at first he will simply move from toy to toy, thrilled by all the new things to look at. Eventually he'll settle on something to play with. Don't worry if the children don't play together but instead stay near each other while playing separately. This is entirely age-appropriate.
Some important rules govern play dates. First, always ask the other parent if the visiting child has any allergies. The child may want to bring his favorite blanket or toy from his house to feel more comfortable. Second, since naps are part of the daily routine for children at this age, ask the parent if the time period you are suggesting works for his child's nap schedule.
Third, if a parent is dropping off a child at your house, be sure you have her phone or cell phone number. Fourth, always make sure you have some healthy snacks on hand, since two-year-olds can get hungry at any time.
There may be times when you find yourself caring for another two-year-old for a few hours or even for an entire day. This actually shouldn't be considered a play date, insofar as you have to be responsible for a lot more than playing. Assuming that you will have to feed the other child and help her settle down for a nap, find out her complete daytime schedule. And consult the other parent ahead of time about whether watching some TV or a movie is allowed.
Some parents find a long play date easier if the children will be going out of the house and there will be lots of activities in which to participate. The fact that moving from playing in the house to playing in the park to going back to the house for lunch would exhaust a toddler is usually viewed as a plus.