31 May 2017, by Joel Chng
At 20-months old, Ezra is used to playing on his own at home. He can entertain himself for up to an hour each time, when my wife Petrina is in the kitchen preparing his meals or busy doing housework. However, nothing brings Ezra greater joy than being able to play alongside other children.
In the past year, the majority of Ezra’s playdates have been one-on-one. It is always so interesting to watch him play with his friends and talk to them, and I believe that it is important for children to have time to play with each other. At playdates, when I see Ezra running around and jumping, it amuses me to no end – I wonder, does my toddler really have so much pent-up energy to expend?
I have observed that there are no barriers when it comes to play, and that children of different ages and genders are able to play together. Ezra enjoys playdates with his friends even though they sometimes do not seem to be interacting much, and despite the small age gaps.
Ezra’s first ‘playdate’ was at four months. It was a date but not so much the play as I realised that babies do not actually play together. The term for this is “parallel play”, where babies are placed next to each other but they play with different toys. Being new to the concept of playdates, I left the structure of Ezra’s first playdate to the hosting parent (my wife’s best friend, whose son L was born just four weeks before Ezra).
Subsequent playdates with L were also held at L’s home and required more supervision as the boys became more mobile and could play more together. At the most recent one, L’s mother planned some activities for the boys – they had fun diving into a mini ball pit and messing with homemade play dough.
There was a funny incident recently, where L kept trying to lay claim to toys that Ezra picked out to play. According to L’s mother, those toys had been neglected for ages. Yet they suddenly looked attractive again – only because Ezra showed interest in them.
That is normal toddler behaviour; young children are self-centered and tend to protect what they know belongs to them. I quickly assured L that Ezra would not be taking any toys home. I then taught the two boys to share, and showed them how to take turns.
By the end of that session, both boys were able to take turns when they had their eye on the same toy.
Even though Ezra has no fixed timings for naps and milk feeds, we usually keep playdates short (between an hour and two hours) and work around our hosts’ timings.
We typically arrive before lunch and leave before the other child is due to take his afternoon nap. This also means that Ezra has had many opportunities to expand his palate, and he is now used to eating different types of food wherever we go.
Ezra is now capable of figuring things out on his own (things like how to play with other children, how to interact with and explore his surroundings), so I usually watch from a distance and only step in if he throws toys or attempts to hit his peer.
When it comes to learning about gender differences, however, I think he will soon be introduced to it in school.
Next month, Ezra will start attending school for three hours daily, and I am excited to see him strengthen his social skills – interacting with new faces and building bonds with people outside of our family.