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A Big Buddy

When 19-month-old Paul Retterer of Atlantic Highlands, NJ, spots older kids at a restaurant, his mom, Lynn, knows what's coming next: "Mommy down! Play! Play!"

Toddlers tend to be fascinated by older kids  -- especially preschoolers, who aren't that much bigger than they are but clearly can do things that look pretty exciting. In fact, there's a lot a 2-year-old can learn from a 4- or 5-year-old  -- whether it's a new way to play with a toy or how to use the potty. If your tot has a bigger buddy down the block, encourage them to play together. Some ways to do that:

Pick the right activities. Plan games they'll both enjoy: Blow bubbles and send the kids around the yard to pop them. Give them each a paintbrush and a pail of water and let them "paint" the fence. Turn up some music and lead them in silly dances. Try to avoid toys like building blocks, since the kids are at such different skill levels with them  -- and the smaller child is apt to knock over whatever his friend creates.

Even the playing field. If your toddler gets upset because he can't ride a two-wheeler like his buddy does, help him keep up by pulling him along in a wagon.

Praise the pal. "You're so good with the baby" and "I like how you roll the ball so gently" are great confidence boosters.

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