I love your articles. I love the concept of letting your little ones just be alone sometimes. I feel I am constantly trying to entertain my little 5 month old girl, and I want her to be someone that likes her own company in the future and can be creative by herself. I don’t know if my LO is clingy (maybe I’m misunderstanding something) or just used to me being right next to her 24/7?
For the last 2 months I have been trying to let her have as much floor play as possible (I hid away the big box of toys, musical swing, and she hardly ever goes in a buggy or car seat) and just gave her space and a few open-ended objects to play with. I stay in the room with her so I am within reach but try to let her have her own space. She seems to get very frustrated and complains a lot after a short amount of time. If I go over to her and engage with her, she is instantly happy. I have not been denying her cuddles or interaction, but she seems much happier when I’m constantly entertaining her with singing, faces etc. Maybe I’m getting something wrong? Please help!
The only other thing I can think of is that she doesn’t want to be restricted on the floor. She LOVES to be held up on her legs in standing position. She complains at tummy time and rolls but isn’t crawling yet, and just seems to want to stand (with my assistance) for a large amount of time.
Thanks for your kind words. A couple of thoughts come to mind regarding your little one. First, remember that babies are very impressionable and like to do what they are accustomed to doing. When we decide to change patterns of behavior we’ve established with our children, there’s usually an adjustment period. If you would like to aid your baby’s transition to more child-led play (and I highly recommend doing so), she will need to adapt to enjoying being with you while you do a little less. Here’s what I suggest…
1. Sit on the floor holding your baby on your lap in a horizontal position, if she’ll allow you to. Sometimes when babies are accustomed to being in an upright position in our arms, they won’t stand for being held another way. If that’s the case, hold her at more of an upright angle on your lap. Relax and let her look around. Place a few interesting, but simple play objects out on the floor beforehand so that she can see them. Don’t point the toys out to her or try to coax her into going there. Just be patient, quiet and accepting. Let her feel settled and see what she sees.
2. When you feel she’s ready (perhaps she’s leaning towards the floor or seems interested in the toys), tell her that you will lay her down, and then place her on her back. Stay right there, so she’s very close to you. Don’t pick up the toys, move them closer or put them in her hands. Just wait and see, let her “be”. If you are impatient, tense or have an agenda, your daughter will probably sense it. So, work on totally letting go and just observing.
3. If she complains, talk to her, always acknowledge her communication. “I hear you. I’m right here watching you.” If she starts to sound more upset, you might stroke her gently and even lie down next to her. “You sound uncomfortable. This is a little different from the way we usually play, isn’t it?”
Remember that complaining about trying something new doesn’t mean she’s “unhappy”.
4. If your acknowledgements don’t calm her and she starts to escalate, you might ask, “Do you want a little break? Would you like me to pick you up?” If she seems to say yes, then pick her up, but stay seated on the floor. If she calms down in your arms, you could try again. “Are you ready to play again?”
5. Most babies do love it when we stand them up, carry them around and otherwise entertain them. What’s not to love? When these ways of interacting become the norm, they are desired and expected. This wish to repeat the familiar can become a distraction that makes it difficult for the child to engage in the slower paced, self-created and self-designed activities that are profoundly beneficial and vital to learning.
It isn’t that your baby feels “restricted” playing on the floor; it’s just that it is such a new and foreign idea to her. (In fact, she is far more restricted and dependent when you are holding her up). And she may not yet believe that she has your attention when you are quieter and more passive, so you’ll have to prove it. The key is to gently wean your baby from expecting entertainment while providing her the trust, space and time to create her own.
A baby who can self-entertain will never need TV.
6. Just as it’s up to us to instill the habit of self-directed play (which most babies end up loving even more than the adult generated kind), it’s also our job to ensure that our babies are developing motor skills organically, if that is something we value. Although both are innate desires, we have to pave the way (which usually means staying out of the way).
If this is the direction you want to take, I would recommend that you not hold your baby up to stand anymore, ever, because that is interfering with both inner-directed play and natural motor development. If she seems to want you to do it, I would acknowledge honestly, “I see you are asking me to hold you up. Yes, we used to do that, but now we’re going to wait for you to be ready to do it on your own. That will be healthier for your body” (or something like that).
7. It isn’t surprising that interaction with her beloved mommy makes your daughter “instantly happy”. Continue to engage her with your joyful attention when you two are feeding, bathing and diapering, etc. Sing, make faces and share jokes while you “work” together. These loving interactions combined with child-led playtime in which you are an appreciative audience to your baby’s ever evolving antics will provide her the absolute best of both worlds.
For inspiration and further clarification, here’s an enchanting, brief montage of a baby’s first 5 months of independent play, generously provided by Kerry (a fellow New Zealander, Jade!) Note the minimal toys needed, the time baby Kobe spends exploring his hands, moving his limbs, pondering who knows what? Notice the comfort he seems to feel in his own skin and the way he achieves “tummy time” gracefully and confidently.
Kerry is an early childhood teacher in New Zealand and began working in a nursery 2 years ago which sparked her passion for respectful care and Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. Since having Kobe 6 months ago she has been privileged to put into practice all she’s learnt and is amazed everyday at Kobe’s attentiveness, confidence and grace.
I share more about nurturing child-led play in
(Photo by Micah Sittig on Flickr)