Toddler friendships when you’re not friends with the parents

With Baby getting closer and closer to age three, you’ve probably started to notice the beginning of friendships with daycare buddies, or kids from a Mommy & Me class, or even with other playground-regulars. While these relationships are a great experience for Baby, and a sign of their growing maturity, toddler friendships also come with extra baggage – parents. And if you don’t know these other parents or they aren’t your cup of tea, it can make being along for the ride on Baby’s adventure in social skills a little bit more of a challenge.

Focus on friendships

The ability to form friendships is a huge developmental milestone for toddlers, and usually really starts to show around age three, though by that point, it’s been forming for a while. Friendship starts to emerge as part of the transition away from parallel play, as toddlers start to play with each other a little more, and to learn to cooperate and work toward shared goals. These growing social skills are a sign of growing self-reliance and sense of self, and playdates are a real opportunity for toddlers to learn how to relate to their peers through sharing, problem-solving, and seeing other perspectives.

Playdate partners

Children still need supervised get-togethers at this age – Baby may be growing more independent every day, but they isn’t so independent that they can go on playdates, to playground outings, or to birthday parties without you. That means you’ll be spending a lot of time with their friends’ and playmates’ parents. If these parents are already friends or acquaintances, you may end up feeling like you’re on a play date, too. On the other hand, if they’re someone you don’t know as well, you may end up feeling a  lot less comfortable.

“Let me introduce myself…”

In these situations, the best thing approach is often to walk into the situation enthusiastically, and keep an open mind. Meeting people through connections with your children is a great way to make new friends with other parents. You may find that you have a lot in common and that you wrestle with some of the same challenges. Making friends with children who are the same age as yours means you’ll end up dealing with a lot of the same situations at the same times.

Lending a helping hand can be a great way to break the ice when meeting new parents. For example, if Baby has been invited to a birthday party and you don’t know the host well, offering to stay and help clean up can mean that, by the end of the event, both you and Baby know the hosts a lot better than when you started. Offer to bring coffee and muffins when invited over for a supervised play date is another great way to signal that you’re hoping to get to know Baby’s friend’s parents a little better.

Not your new BFF

But what happens if you’ve met the parents a few times and you’re just not clicking? First, look at what’s not working between you and the parents in question. If you have dramatically different values (on issues like discipline, supervision, manners, appropriate language, etc.), getting together outside of daycare may not be in the cards. It’s OK to decline further invitations.

However, if it’s something smaller, or if the friendship vibe just doesn’t seem to be there, think about suggesting group get-togethers where there’s less one-on-one time with them. You may also decide to keep looking to see if you can find some common ground – avoid divisive topics and instead talk about neutral subjects like hobbies or travel. Taking the time to try and make it work will send a message to Baby about the importance of figuring out how to get along with people.

  • “Social Development in Preschoolers.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/2015.
  • Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, and Sara B. Kinsman, MD, PhD: Editors. “What Parents Can Do to Support Friendships.” Reaching Teens: Strength-based Communication Strategies to Build Resilience and Support Healthy Adolescent Development. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/2015.
  • Kelly Ross, MD. “How Taking Care of Yourself Makes You a Better Mom.” American Academy of Pediatrics. 4/27/16.
Get the Ovia Parenting app
Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Google Play Store Get our app at the Google Play Store