A mom shared about some family challenges she’s facing and asked for my advice.
“I enjoyed reading this post about fostering solo play even though my LO is 14 months. I have tried to foster her interest in independent play by creating a safe space in our home that she can roam around and she has responded quite well. It’s not unheard of for her to play by herself for 45-1hr.
My issue lies with not having much support from my family and sometimes my husband with this approach. My husband doesn’t object to her playing on the floor with toys. However, he feels that there is nothing “wrong” with watching television….his reasoning is “I grew up watching a lot of television and I’m fine.” Case in point today I came down to find that he had turned on the toddler channel and she was sitting on the floor staring transfixed at the tv. I asked him to turn it off, which he did immediately, but it just highlights to me that he doesn’t feel as strongly about television being totally unnecessary.
I have the same issues with the in-laws…They feel that LO is missing out because she is not watching t.v. They don’t believe that she should be left to play on the floor but rather put in her “pack n’ play” They are terrified of her falling and hurting herself and so don’t really let her pull up or try and take steps…I’ve had to tell them to calm down on several occasions because they were terrified about the possibility of my daughter “breaking her head” on a piece of furniture she was trying to pull up on. Don’t get me wrong, I want her to be safe, but I don’t want her to be afraid to try things because she’s scared.
Any suggestions on getting the family more in line with this approach to parenting? We have nieces and nephews who have grown up in this very protective environment, (one who is 20 “scared” and really needs her mom to help her with most situations that are outside of family interactions). I don’t want to say hey.. look at so and so she can’t even handle taking the bus at 20…that’s why I’m raising my daughter this way.
Sorry this has turned into a vent. We spend a lot of time with extended family and I am constantly defending my decisions. I don’t want her to be afraid, I really want her to be independent and resilient. Any advice would be appreciated!”
Please don’t ever worry about venting here! I understand your frustration. Parenting a toddler is challenging enough without having to defend your choices to others, feel like they are disregarded, or even undermined rather than respected. Your daughter’s flourishing ability to play independently for such an extended period of time is a fantastic accomplishment and a treasure that you should continue to protect. As you know, giving her TV time at such an early age can undermine it. I applaud your determination and perseverance.
The trick is to help your husband (and maybe even your in-laws) understand the enormous value of inner-directed playtime the way you do. Her ability to entertain herself makes TV unnecessary (as you say) and is the healthiest imaginable way for her to spend her day. My husband and I still tiptoe around when our eight year old son is drawing, making forts, or playing with his soldiers, knights or monsters, so that we don’t interrupt. We know how vastly important and therapeutic this kind of play is for him, especially as balance for all the time he now spends playing sports, socializing and watching TV (which we only allow on weekend evenings during the school year).
I don’t doubt your husband turned out fine, but I’m sure he wants to give your daughter every advantage he can. Every study I’ve read concludes that children are better off physically, cognitively, socially, creatively, even emotionally when media use is delayed past toddlerhood and then limited. I highly recommend the book, Endangered Minds, by Jane Healy, PH.D., which explores the affects of early TV use on the developing brain, especially its affect on listening, focus and attention skills. Doesn’t every daddy want his girl to be not only “fine”, but to live up to her intellectual, creative and physical potential?
By the way, the idea that children “miss out” when they don’t watch TV shows or movies is a total fallacy. You’ll realize the tremendous power of marketing when your 2 or 3 year old has intimate knowledge of every TV and movie cartoon character — without ever having seen the shows! Children are easily caught up later when they are old enough to begin to truly understand the concept of TV and are able to watch more actively and appreciatively. There is NO downside to holding off on TV.
To help your husband and in-laws get on board with playtime, TV use, natural gross motor development and your daughter’s need to practice it, or any parenting choice you make, take the most positive approach possible. No one listens when they feel criticized. And whether it’s your spouse, extended family, a friend or even a professional caregiver, caring for children is something people seem to take very personally (especially if they’ve cared for their own children as your in-laws have).
So, rather than say, “I don’t want her to watch TV”. Or, “She’s working on standing. Please let her be. She’s fine.” I might say something like, “I’m trying some things I’ve been learning about and they’re working. I want to try giving her a couple of years to learn through play before we start TV. It’s so fun to watch what she does. I know this is different from what you did, but I’m really hoping you’ll try this with me. ”
Then be sure to report all the good stories, like the time your daughter fell three times from a standing position on the floor, but picked herself up, tried again, and on the fourth try…she stood for five seconds, and the look of satisfaction on her face was priceless. Or, mention the way your daughter seemed a little unsettled, and the thought of entertaining her with TV crossed your mind, but you waited, and she eventually crawled towards her basket of board books and spent a long time looking at them one-by-one upside down.
Keep in mind that because of all the time your daughter spends in your care, you will always have the most profound influence on her development. I feel certain she’ll be the self-confident, independent, resilient girl you are helping her to become. So, don’t waste your energy being on the defensive. Stay positive. Ask your family to try observing your daughter when she plays. Sometimes when we see it with our own eyes it suddenly makes sense.
(My husband was a little opinionated and stubborn about parenting at first, but he soon began to see the wisdom in facilitating natural development rather than teaching, stimulating or directing our baby. Here’s his story: Respecting My Baby (An End To The Daddy Doo Dah Dance)
Hang in there!
All the best,
(Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov on Flickr)