HI! I have a question. I would LOVE for my 2 1/2 yr old to play independently! Huge problem: she is glued to my hip, and I do mean glued. She gets tons and tons of one on one quality time with me (both pure, silly fun and also educational) she is extremely happy when I am involved with all her play but will not do any sort of play without me. If I try to do the dishes or laundry she is constantly saying “mommy sit down, play with me” and cries and throws fits.
I would also like her to play in her room at some point but she is just refusing to be separated from me in any way. I would like to point out I absolutely adore the quality time I have with my beautiful girl! But sometimes, just sometimes I seriously need some space! Not to mention I feel it’s very important that she develop the life skill of being “alone and content”, learning to occupy herself and think of things to do on her own (without mommy every time) any advice would be tremendously appreciated! –Mama2agirl (A response to Baby Einstein is No Genius.)
Parents need and deserve free time, and children need extended periods of self-directed, uninterrupted play. Children learn best when they are given time to invent, explore and experiment. When you’ve had productive time away from each other, you will come back together refreshed, and you’ll be ready to give focused attention to your daughter. Quality is much more important than quantity.
Also, keep in mind that when we play with a child, we are usually using our ideas and imagination, and the child is following and responding, rather than creating, discovering and learning for herself. I remember the shock (and great relief) I felt when an experienced associate and friend told me, “It is not a parent’s job to play with a child.” “What?!” Your daughter is used to your constant attention, but it is not too late to break this habit.
It sounds like you are dealing with two related issues. First, know that children quickly become accustomed to the habits we create for them. When a child is used to a parent’s constant companionship, she will continue to expect it. You and your daughter have a loving relationship and enjoy each other’s company, but it will benefit both of you to have more time apart. It’s clear from the description of your parent/child dynamic that you realize this. So, getting there is the problem.
The second issue I see is that your daughter is looking for boundaries: guidance for her behavior. Infant expert Magda Gerber reminded parents that children will push for us to be a 24-hour slave, if we let them. When we establish boundaries, such as: now I’m going to do some work in the kitchen while you stay in your play area (and a gate across the kitchen door comes in handy here), we cannot expect our child to say, “Oh great, go ahead, enjoy!” The child might whine, cry or even have a tantrum. One of the biggest challenges for parents is to establish firm boundaries and then allow a child to freely (but safely) express her displeasure. We can let the child know we understand by acknowledging her reaction, “I hear how upset you are, but I have to work now. I’ll be back with you in a few minutes.” When we cave in to tearful demands and try to “keep the child happy,” we risk creating the opposite of happiness: an insecure child.
A child will not usually give a parent permission to leave her side. It is up to the parent to make those decisions. It’s vital that parents set boundaries (and allow a child to cry in response) before the situation begins to make the parent angry or resentful. We are building a relationship with our child, and our needs matter too. We must prioritize a healthy relationship, not one in which we bend over backwards and neglect our needs, giving our child too much power. Children may complain and cry when limits are set, but they are always relieved to know they are not running the house.
When we make changes in the way we are parenting, we must have conviction in what we are doing. I recommend reading Magda Gerber’s books: Dear Parent and Your Self-Confident Baby as well as my book No Bad Kids and the posts in this blog that address self-directed play and boundaries (HERE).
Enough lecturing, here are my practical suggestions:
Switch gears to become an observer of your child’s play, rather than being directly involved. This might be easier to begin when at the park. First, tell your child what you will do before you get there, because she is probably used to you playing with her, and you will be behaving differently. “This time I’m going to sit on the bench. You can sit with me or go and play while I watch you.” When you arrive, sit with your child and allow her to participate in activities on her own, if and when she is ready to do so. (Obviously you would be ready to move closer to her if necessary, for safety reasons.) If she grabs your hand and demands that you walk with her to the slide or swing, you might say, “I’m going to stay here. You can sit with me or go and play.” If she insists, say, “I know I usually go with you, but today I’m going to sit.” It may take time for her to transition to this new way of being with you, but in the long run you will be surprised at the pleasure you derive from observing, rather than ‘doing’ with your daughter. She will naturally seek out what she is ready to work on, and you will learn volumes about her. The time your daughter spends inventing play on her own will eventually become the highlight of her day… and yours.
“Do less, observe more, enjoy most.” –Magda Gerber
I share more about quality time, child-led play, and respectful care in my book: