Toddler Friends & Socializing

Archived Q&A and Reviews

How to meet friends for visiting toddler

June 2004

My two-year-old grandson is coming to visit from out of state for the month of July. I know we can go to the zoo and to Children's Fairyland. But can anyone suggest ways for us to actually meet and make friends with other children his age and their parents? We'd like to stay close to Oakland. Being a grandmother, I have been ''out of the loop'' for many years when it comes to young children. Nervous Grammy Maybe the best thing to do would be to take him to your neighborhood park. Many moms and children go to the same parks every day. That's how I met a lot of other moms with kids my son's age. Some good ones in Oakland:
1. Frog Park (near Claremont Ave.) 2. Willard Park (it's in Berkeley, but a favorite of my son's). 3. Linda Park on Linda Avenue in lower Piedmont 4. Jordan Park on Jordan Street off of Redwood Road off highway 13.
I would give you directions, but I don't know street names and wouldn't want to mess you up. I think you should choose the most convenient one and go most mornings. He's bound to find a friend. Good Luck! bridget

How lucky for you to have your grandson for a whole month and how nice that you want to make connections with others! During July there is a summer session at Toddler Family for toddlers with their parents or caregivers. They will have lots of messy art projects, water play, outdoor time, snacks, circle time. Your grandson will have other toddlers to play with and you can meet other parents/grandparents to help you get ''back in the loop'' with young children. They are located in Oakland near Lake Merritt 510-251-8000 or
mom with out-of-state grandma

18-month-old snatching toys

I'm not sure how to handle a sensitive situation in which an 18 mo playmate keeps snatching toys away from my child. This has been going on for months, but the most comment I've made to the mommy is that her child seems to be quite territorial with toys. I started to take closer note of the situation when the playmate began snatching not only his/her own toys from my child, but my child's favorite toys as well, followed by a no! when my child tried to reclaim it.

I'm a stay at home mom so I see my child everyday and know how he/she interacts with other children, and I can say without reservation that about 95% of the time my toddler shares happily and freely with other children of the same age, and there don't seem to be these issues.

The sensitivity I'm feeling is how to communicate all this to the mommy friend if at all. My feelings right now are that I don't want my 18 month old to learn that snatching is okay, and from what I perceive, there hasn't been a strong enough message from the mommy that snatching is wrong and to give the toy back. Now, my child has started to retaliaite (after months of having toys snatched away) by shoving.

I know this won't be the first time I have to deal with sharing issues, but the way I feel now is that I should drastically limit the amount of time the two spend together so that my child doesn't learn that snatching is okay and normal. I want my child to remain a good 'sharer.' Perhaps this child and mine are not good playmates anymore? Thanks for any suggestions of ways to handle this.

My understanding (from having an 18 mo. old and a 4 yr old, and from watching day care interactions and at-home play) is that this is what many 18 mo. olds do. Some people call it the live toy effect. If another kid has it, I want it! There is even a funny piece out there on toddler rules of ownership (does anyone have a copy?) that refers to this very issue. Learning how to share and wait one's turn is very complex. It takes a lot of patience and thoughtful interaction on the part of the care givers (Amy is playing with that ball right now. Why don't you play with this ball until it is your turn. Amy, let Cindy know when she can have a turn). It takes a lot of understanding and self control on the part of the child. perhaps your child is more mature.

Sometimes if a toy is very precious (e.g., a blanket) we might put it away so that it isn't tempting to the visitor, and bring it out when the visitor leaves. With older visitors, with more self control, we have said, That is her favorite blanket and she isn't required to share that with others. You can use any of her other toys.

Your child will eventually run into other aggressive children. Perhaps what your 18 month old can learn is how to use her words and say no to the playmate, and perhaps (in addition to using the phrases above) you can be a back up if the playmate's response gets physical. Perhaps you can tell the other mother that you would like to work on this with your child, and have her help when the playmate visits. In that way the focus will be on your child and the other mother may be less defensive; and the end result could be just the same. Good luck.

I am the mother of a toy snatcher. My son is much more physically aggressive than his friends, so I can give you the other perspective. My feeling is that all children will go through these phases (snatching, pushing, etc.). My child didn't learn to snatch toys because he watched someone else do it, he just started doing it one day. I don't think your child will necessarily develop bad habits from playing with this other child. These are all just normal developmental things that all children go through - some more than others. I look at it as an opportunity to teach your child what is right and wrong. If the mother of this child does nothing about her child's behavior, I think it is perfectly acceptable for you to step in and do something, if for no other reason, to teach your child that the behavior is not acceptable.

That said, I know it must be a pain in the neck to deal with your own child's behavior as well as someone else's. But, the truth of the matter is, everyone has different parenting ideas. This mother may just think that the behavior will pass and just ignores it. I think that if it is bad enough that you are thinking about not letting the children play together, it would be good of you to talk to the other mother about it. If your relationship (and your children's relationship) is important enough to her, I'm sure she'll be happy to be more proactive/reactive if you want her to. Nancy

My 2.5-year-old's aggressive playmate

April 2005

My 2 1/2 year old toddler has had at least one playdate a week with ''jane', who's three months older, for the last 18 months. Jane is unusually verbally precocious, often shoves other children for no apparent reason, will spend almost an entire playdate picking up and organizing tiny little rocks or shells or bits of trash in the park, and sometimes will be aggressive to other children who she suspects (without provocation) will mess up her collection.

I'm a first time parent, so I thought all this was par for the course, and just part of her Jane-ness until an incident last week which still has me deeply disturbed. My friend, Jane's mom, dropped her off at my house for 2 hours. I was home with my son, another toddler and my nanny/babysitter. Jane came in and immediately began acting out - throwing toys, shoving me son, announcing she was going to bite him, etc. I took her on my lap and said, ''Jane, we don't throw toys in this house. We don't shove people in this house.'' She seemed blank and sort of limp, so I asked her to look at me....and she couldn't. I've never experienced anything like it. Not Wouldn't - deliberately looking away, or closing her eyes, but Couldn't focus on my eyes.

Things escalated as time went on and her behavior became more disruptive. My part-time nanny, who has raised three children and worked in the Bay area for 7 years was holding Jane's hands and singing and dancing with her while I played with the other two children when Jane began biting her. We asked her to stop and she bit nanny so hard she broke the skin. I snapped. I yelled ''No. We don't do that in this house,'' picked her up and put her in the playroom. ''Biting is not good, Jane,'' I said. ''We don't do that.'' She laughed at me.

So Jane's mom comes home and the kids are asleep and I tell her what happened, say it was really frightening how Jane wouldn't look at me and this woman, my friend, says, ''I'm sorry. You won't see us again,'' which also seemed totally out of character. I thought the problem with Jane was that she doesn't seem to get any discipline. Her father in particular, will beam with pride and extol Jane's intelligence and strong personality while she's stealing other kids' food (which she does frequently), empty my litterbox on the floor, turn tv's on/off, and demand food or milk. But now I'm thinking she may have some kind of developmental disorder.

What should I do? If the issue is one of parenting styles, I guess I just don't have her in the house. But if she's ill, do I mention my concerns to my friend? Won't I sound like ''Your kid trashed my house and bit my babysitter and made my little darling cry so maybe she has a developmental disorder? Oy. Thank you for reading. really concerned

''Jane'' doesn't seem to be either ill or undisciplined, but a fairly normal 2-3 year old whose behavior is outside your reference point and/ or experience.

Our perception can alter the reality of an event and intensify something that would otherwise be only ordinary. If this is a real issue for you, and you are truly concerned, there are a variety of thoughtful and direct ways you can respond. Posting to a list where ''Jane's'' parent can see your comments is probably not be one of them.

And, as for her parents, well, they're just like you and your spouse, evolving and growing as parents as their child does. You've probably misinterpreted their comments and responses.

In matters such as these, I'm no expert. I can only rely my own brief experience as a parent, and those of longer experiences close friends and family members. Let's toss in a former life growing up in a family of eight with this mix.

There is one POV I might have which differs from other responders. You see, I'm ''Jane's'' dad...

In my experience, gently advising a parent that their child needs help, falls on deaf ears. Your ultimate responsibility is to your family. I would definitely recommend to your friend that she check in with a behavior specialist to see if there's something she needs to do for this child. Just because parents don't want to hear these things doesn't mean we should just keep our mouths shut. But only mention it once. If not addressed or problems persist/worsen, let your actions be your reminder, rather than verbally nagging her mother - don't play with Jane anymore. anon

I think every toddler goes through unpleasant behaviors such as biting and yeling and throwing things, but there are a few things in this email that set of warning bells for me. One was the fact that the mother hasn't proactively warned you or talked to you about her daughter's behaviors (wouldn't you if that were your child?), and the other one is her response to again not talk about it but to leaveand not see you again (a classic response for avoidance now that you are aware of the level of problems). The going limp and not responding thing is the most worrysome for me. That is an attempt to disconnect, the only way someone with very little power can exert some control over what is about to happen to her/ him. Perhaps the phrase you used (look at me) was a trigger for her. My gut says something is happening either in the home or to that child. I would strongly recommend you try to have a serious talk to this mother, and if she won't- and this wil be extremely unpopular advice- call CPS (child protective services). Some one needs to evaluate what is going on, and the mother sounds like she is either in denial or unable to cope herself. an RN

As the mother of the child in question, I must respond on behalf of my family and other ''challenging children.'' Prompted (unkindly) by my neighbor, I?ve done extensive investigation and am comfortable with my conclusions. My daughter is ''spirited,'' very strong-willed, curious, & sometimes aggressive and quite obnoxious. She?s also a 2-year old who happily sits in a grocery cart for an hour, runs to hug adult friends, did very well in daycare, enjoys helping around the house, notices when we're sad and pats us, has been at many people's houses alone without problems, and is generally the most well-behaved child in her playgroup. I?ve never experienced the shifty-eyed, going limp (or whatever) behavior, and believe me, I've disciplined her plenty of times! A child psychologist said it?s very typical for (many) children to laugh/avoid eye contact/make every attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of discipline, and not to ascribe adult emotions/motivations to young kids. All are even on the ''typical behavior'' lists for around her age, as is talking to one?s self (what had this person calling her, twice, ?demented?). I sure hope we can train away her pushing younger kids soon, and/or she outgrows it (she doesn't show aggression at all to us). I didn?t understand why she does it but it?s always when she?s not getting attention and/or wants to go home. We're working on it, and we know now to take her home immediately. I freely confess to using ''playdates'' as an opportunity for adult conversation, often at the expense of the attention/limits she needs. After 2, or 9-hours with one kid- I'm often stir-crazy; not due usually to her behavior, just isolation. As she?s often outgoing and seems adaptable, I've been guilty of going out for MY sanity when she asked to stay home to play. I tried something-for a day; gave her total, engaged attention-no phone, park, etc. Result: a calm and trouble-free day. It?s not always realistic-but I will listen when she asks to go home! She craves attention, but IS learning social skills. She?s learning to say ''excuse me'' when she wants attention, and speak calmly instead of whining when asked. She plays cooperatively at length with older kids-it's a joy to watch. It?s easy to overestimate her communication ability just because she talks a lot; the truth is she can't really express feelings yet. A child development specialist who?s known her since 4 mos. (not officially) says she's just fine-bonded with us, learning to manage feelings, social, and struggling with impulse control like many 2?s!. As for ''spending all her time picking up rocks,'' please! So what! This is called an ''interest,'' toddler-style. She likes to pick up stuff, but another day in another setting she?s sliding, playing with strollers or digging holes. The post made me realize how very wrong it is to try to ?diagnose? someone else?s child or situation, from the outside, with incomplete facts, using an ?anonymous? forum. Parents with older children or more than one child seem to understand and accept just how different children can be one from another. Inexperienced ones like me take parenting classes and struggle to figure out how our children ''work'' and how to socialize them as befits their temperament. Please excuse the long post! (: Trying to do her best as a mom

I don't think anyone can answer your question (Undisciplined or ill?) solely from your post. It seems to me that the only way to begin to shed some light on this is to collaborate with your friend, who has a lifetime of history with ''Jane.'' If your friend's reaction to not see you again seems out of character, perhaps she is also feeling extremely anxious about her daughter. My only suggestion would be to try to approach her in person- as opposed to over the phone- and supportively express your concerns about your friend, not about Jane. If she trusts you as a friend perhaps she will be able to discuss some of her concerns about her daughter. It is truly terrifying as a parent to have a young child who looks like she might have problems. Approaching the mom in a supportive manner might go a long way. - been there

I think children that age are too young to go on ''playdates'' without a parent or caregiver present. I have an almost two year old and also an almost five year old, and the five year old did not go on playdates alone until he was really at least three, and then only next door and for a very limited amount of time as long as things were good, at which point the other parent could call me immediately to come and get him. It isn't really possible to ''reason'' with a child that age in my experience when they are acting out. All two year olds hate sharing toys and having their constructions disturbed, and few have outgrown pushing, pinching or merely howling to get this across. Biting is a problem because it can be dangerous, but isn't abnormal for the age. A parent whose child bites should be on hand to prevent the behavior in my opinion. Children don't look you in the eye when they don't want to hear what you are saying; this is common for many years past two. I would not leave my child unattended at this age for a playdate, but I would also be insulted if two year old behavior was an occasion for insinuations that something was terribly wrong with my child. Two year olds can be angels or devils by the hour on any given day, depending on their blood sugar, level of rest, or whims in my experience. That behavior would be highly unacceptable in a five year old, but making negative developmental observations based on one playdate is pretty out of line unless you are a trained special ed teacher or evaluator in my opinion. If you don't think you would want the child around again, perhaps the parent is doing you a favor. Been Through the Terrible Twos Twice

I'd say that this child does have something serious going on, but there's no way you can tell difinitively or do anything about. Sounds like the mother covered things pretty well when she said you would not see them again, so maybe you won't have to worry about it. Is there a possibility that this child is abused? If so, you might want to consider CPS, but that's a very serious thing to do. In your and your child's best interest, I'd keep their interactions to an absolute minimum, though I'd guess they won't come around again since you've already put out your concerns and were rebuffed. Better at least not to have your children be subject to that behavior, although one can't help but feel sorry for that other child. Anon

If you're reporting accurately, this child sounds like she may have a problem. If you like getting together with them, then call up the mother and tell her that you didn't mean that you don't want to see them, but that you were concerned and that you apologize if it sounds judgemental, but you'd like to know if she'd like some help, or if there's anything you can do. Let her know that you'd like to see them. If you'd rather not get together with them, then there's probably little you can do to ''help,'' since the girl's parents and pediatrician are responsible, and you will sound judgemental (or worse, ''superior''). Or if you want to continue to get together but just don't want her at your house agian, you can say that maybe she reacted poorly to your nanny, but you would rather get together for playdates elsewhere. If the behavior has been bothering you, then mom probably already picked up on it, and may evenbe relieved not to have to deal with it anymore. On the other hand, it may be that she's used to other parents saying they don't want to see her child again. Just try to be kind and gracious and reassuring. anon

I would just like to share a technique for dealing with biting and pushing children that a very experienced friend (Montessori trained and childcare provider for over 25 years for 18 mo-3.5 yr olds) uses. It might be helpful for parents to know this as a way to ''cure'' such behavior.

When a child has bitten or pushed hard, my friend the provider hovers over the offender for two or three days. Every time the offender lunges, she physically interrupts the aggression (gently). I don't know if she also picks up the child and changes his or her location, and I don't know what she says (''You can't do that at my house'' or ''Don't do that, it hurts Sarah?'' maybe?). But I do know that it works, and she never has to excuse a kid from her program for aggression. concerned

I really appreciated the posts from ''Jane's'' parents, not least because they were good reminders that there are multiple perspectives on any given situation, which is not always apparent from the posts, and also that we are not as anonymous as we might think. Certainly I would be very careful when making judgements or quasi- medical diagnoses (i.e. the writer's description that the child ''couldn't... Not Wouldn't - deliberately looking away, or closing her eyes, but Couldn't focus on my eyes.'')

''Jane's'' mom wrote that a child psychologist said, ''it's very typical for (many) children to laugh/avoid eye contact/make every attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of discipline, and not to ascribe adult emotions/motivations to young kids.'' I know I've caused myself a lot of grief by that last one (ascribing adult motivations to children). What I wanted to point out is that this goes doubly or tripley true for discipline by anyone other than the child's parent. I have seen and participated in (more than I would like to admit--I'm counting on some anonymity here, myself!) attempts by a parent to reprimand or discipline another child, and without exception the children, who ranged in age from 2 to 8, responded by freezing like a deer in the headlights, avoiding eye contact, and when possible running away. It is difficult to respond absolutely appropriately when one is responsible for another parent's child and that child misbehaves. The level of reprimand or discipline that one would use with one's own child in a similar situation could be absolutely terrifying without the feeling of unconditional love that hopefully one's own child takes for granted. This is definitely a touchy issue that we parents don't really discuss--where is the line when it comes to appropriate responses to another child's misbehavior? I've seen more judgementalness on this issue (level of discipline of other children) than on anything else. I'd love to see some open discussion of this topic. --another mom doing my best with this and other issues!

As a parent of a 'spirited' child, I read these postings with interest. I guess the header- ''undisciplined or ill'' tells the whole story. What about ''different than my kid''? ''Having a bad day''? ''Going through a rough phase- but still a great kid''? My kid has gone through phases of biting, laughing at adults, not making eye contact, hitting, going limp, and a host of other behaviors which were unpleasant to deal with. She is also fun, verbal, and energetic. She tends to do everything with a great deal of persistence and energy. She's 'normal'- whatever that means. If my child had a playdate at another kid's home, and the mother later described my child's behavior as disturbing or scary, I'd be happy if I responded as calmly as Jane's mother. And I'd definitely not do another playdate. I would not be open to a later discussion of some perceived developmental disorder in my child. As a reader, I'd be very cautious about suggesting that this child had a developmental disorder, or that her behavior was the result of abuse. Those are very strong words. Professionals in the field would not begin to give you a diagnosis or assessment of possible abuse on the basis of the brief vignette described. But apparently some parents feel they have the practical knowledge and experience to offer these assessments, based solely on an account of one incident. I think that if someone has a question about their own child's behavior, this is a good forum to at least get a sense if other parents have experienced the same thing. But to try and get information about another child, who you see on a fairly limited basis... This is probably not going to be a helpful place. BPN has policies about reviews based on second-hand information. This probably ought to apply to other people's kids as well. disturbed by other responders

I am sorry that the parents of the child in this question had to see the post. A similar experience happened in my group of friends last year due to a post on this list. It was very hurtful and embarassing to the person who had to read about her life on a list broadcast to thousands of people. I don't know what the solution is. Obviously the moderators are busy and do a terrific job keeping this list positive and helpful. Maybe we as subscribers can do a better job in choosing what we post and how we do it. Be careful what you post

I think you already received enough advice, but I felt that I have something to add after reading the post from the child's parent. You may be correct that the child has problems, and the mother of the child may be right that she is ''spirited''. The behaviors you describe sound more like a disability, like asbergers syndrome, than abuse or poor parenting, but I would leave the judgement to a pediatric nuerologist, developmental pediatrician, or pediatric physciatrist. Those behaviors would have to be consistent, not passing, to have meaning. And her mom is correct that picking up rocks isn't important if she has a variety of other interests. Her mom will seek help when the problems affect her in preschool or nearly all social situations.

I agree with the posters who said the children are too young to be on playdates alone. Had her mom been there you could have suggested she was having a bad day and ended the play date. In the same situation, I would call her mom to pick her up early. Calling CPS as some readers suggested seems extreme, and I am in a mandated reporter in my profession. CPS assumes guilt,not innocence. Unless you have proof the child is abused, (like bruises or hearing verbal abuse) or strong circumstancial evidence (like overly sexual behavior) you would make a parent already in denial, but not guilty of abuse, more defensive. Approach her in the most helpful way you can, avoiding judgement.

The thing that struck me most was that the parent of the child could easily identify her child in the posting. I can't blame the parent for being defensive in her response, since so many people will read the postings, and some undoubtably will recognize both children. To her it probably felt like gossip, rather than the request for help you intended. Her response that you won't be seeing the family again indicate that she already felt judged. She may feel that your circle of friends will close her out. If the child does have a problem, then give all the support to her mom you can, and leave behind any judgements.

To Jane's parents, The purpose of your posts seemed to be to make the original poster feel bad, as well as present your point of view. Certainly she did not write hers in this vein -- how could she have foreseen that you would read it? My concern is that by tag- teaming and attacking the original poster, you may create an atmosphere where people fear to post sensitive concerns. This would be detrimental to the list. We all benefit from reading about difficult situations. I don't want people to NOT ask for advice because they think they will be ''caught.''

I understand that the specifics of this situation made it easy for the parties involved to recognize it. But in the future, if we think we recognize ourselves portrayed unflatteringly, maybe we should give our friends and neighbors the benefit of the doubt and protect those relationships, instead of rushing to defend ourselves and attack others. And see what advice is given. My .02

I would encourage you to consider the possibility that what you are looking at is a very active and challenging child, not undisciplined and not ill. I have two children, two and four, and between 1 and 3 they were (one still is) monsterously difficult. I was the one pulling my kids off other kids, mine shoved kids for no reason, often really hard, went through a thankfully short biting phase, and are generally loud and unruly. I am well aware of what some other parents in the park must have thought about my aggressive, wild chlidren as I carry them away kicking and screeming .

They 'chatter'' constantly and hardly ever stop moving. They will tip over, pick up, climb up anything around. I have to assume anything in their reach (or not -- one particulary is a climber) will be eaten, broken, thrown or in some way played with. This was not a matter of not being ''disciplined''. I call them my raccoons -- to convey that they cannot be domesticated.

Some kids are more active and more challenging than others. Mine were off the scale. None of the other kids in my mom's group of 10 were anywhere like that.

Guess what? My four year old is now a quiet, thoughtful sweetheart, very ''self-controlled'' -- if you saw him you'd say he had very good ''discipline''. He plays very well by himself and while still active is not in any way ''out of control'' any longer. It's basically just he outgrew it.

So, it may just be that you have a quieter, easier kid and ''Jane'' is more spirited, difficult, challenging, whatever ... They're just different. I'm sure it's a shock to see. Have sympathy for your friend who lives with the challenge daily!

And to ''Jane's'' parents -- take comfort in recent research demonstrating that highly active children are learning a lot during all that activity -- it's been associated with intelligence. You're seen me in the park

28-month-old doesn't want to play with other kids

March 1999

I just returned from my playgroup (of one and half years) with my 28 month old son and I feel very frustrated with the experience. When we got to the park he didn't want to get out of the car (he loves sitting in the driver's seat pressing buttons which I let him do for 10 minutes.) Then I coaxed him on to some of the playground equipment which he did for a few minutes. Then he starting whining about wanting to go home. All the other kids in the group seem to like the playground. Not all play with each other, but they find something to do. I'm able to coax him to swing a little, run and climb but it takes a lot of effort. I do consider him a little shy, but even when I'm at the playground or a park with him by myself, he is always trying to drag me back to the car. He can open most gates at toddler playgrounds so I'm constantly trying to stop him from running back to the car. His favorite part of going most places seems to getting in the car to go home. Of course, when we're at home he's not always happy to be there either. Any ideas on how we can make outings more enjoyable for both of us?

This might not be what you were thinking of, but your scenario reminded me a lot of an article I read recently in Mothering magazine about the Zen of Mothering. It basically was about enjoying time together much more by following the child's lead about how s/he wants to play, and giving up parental images of what a good time should look like. You may have other (perfectly valid) reasons for wanting to have your son go to the park, but if just enjoying an afternoon with him might were the main point, perhaps just getting into the car and pushing buttons for a bit, then going back to the house would be an enjoyable way to spend the time. (I have similar issues with my 19-month-old daughter--it's a gorgeous day outside, and *I* really want to get out there, but she doesn't want to put on her shoes, or walk, or ride in the stroller, so I have sometimes ended up demanding the shoes, cramming her into the stroller and going out, and then we have a sulky time instead of a fun one. If I can get My needs met in ways other than with her--e.g. leaving her home shoeless with the babysitter other than with her--e.g. leaving her home shoeless with the babysitter for half an hour while I go for a walk--we both have a better time. Of course then I still worry anyway that she's not learning to enjoy the outdoors--nor how to submit gracefully to Mommy (discipline)....) Best wishes to you.