In A Creative Alternative To Baby TV Time I suggest following infant expert Magda Gerber’s advice to develop a baby’s natural ability to play independently. A recent commenter on the post, Mary Ellen, asked some questions and raised issues I thought worth sharing:
i still would like to know what a parent is doing (or not doing) for a baby to play independently for 3-4 hours straight….
i would also like to know how many times a day this baby is playing like this…?….2-3 times a day for 3-4 hours straight…?…..if not then what is the baby doing for the rest of his 10 hour day beside the time it takes to nap..eat…and change a diaper….?….
does that baby ever protest being in his “safe” space…?….what does the parent do when this happens…?…..
i feel like i have set up the right conditions for long independent play to happen according to Gerber’s book and what i have read on this site……
safe play space…?….check.
interesting yet simple play objects…?…check.
what am i missing…..?….
it seems to me that the little soul i was gifted to care for wants to do things way before his time….like…he wants to sit up so badly….but can’t do it on his own yet….so i will watch him try to sit up from a back lying position….after so many times….he looks at me as if he is pleading with me to sit him up…..i know that this is his least mobile position…so i try to resist….but i usually end up giving in after a while…..
on a good day he will play independently for an hour or so before needing a “recharge”……his thing is rolling…..he is not necessarily into his objects but using them as a reason to retrieve discard and roll to the next thing….he will stop and explore a few objects like the spatula…wooden spoon….metal bowl…or random piece of string hanging from a pillow or something…..but after he has done a few laps across the floor and explored a few objects…he is ready to get up……
i find myself avoiding his gaze a lot of the time when he is on the floor…..especially when i trying to get something done (like get dressed in the morning)…..because i know as long as he thinks i am not watching him he will play….but the minute he realizes i am looking he drops everything and starts “pleading” to be picked up….
ps….i KNOW there is a such thing as baby boredom…Gerber may say it is not boredom but lack of stimulation or disinterest in a toy…..but this sounds like the same thing it me….
..the idea of constantly putting your child in the “safe” space for 80% of their waking hours…even if you are switching out the play objects just doesn’t sound right to me…..please enlighten….
Hi Mary Ellen,
First, I want to laud you and cheer you on in your efforts to establish uninterrupted play periods for your boy. I know it is hard to do with only Magda Gerber’s books to guide you…without classes or community support. Please hang in there. I can promise that you will never regret what you are working towards. Sorry if this sounds like a sales pitch, but I really can’t emphasize enough how well this approach works, and how beneficial it will be to you and your child in the near and distant future.
You’ll thank Magda Gerber when your friends and relatives react with astonishment that your boy is so “un-clingy”, can entertain himself and is so fun to watch. They’ll chalk it up to his personality (and give you no credit at all).
You’ll thank Magda when your son’s teachers comment that he is such a focused, self-confident, independent learner.
You’ll thank her when your son only ever wants minimal help with homework.
And you’ll thank her when he is requested for play dates by other children and their parents because he knows how to create play.
How much time playing? Playing for one hour at your baby’s age is FANTASTIC! Fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes would all be excellent, too. Please know that the three to four hour example I gave was a one-and-only, truly bizarre experience I had with one of my daughters. I would never dream of expecting a baby to play uninterrupted for such a long period of time.
But I am suggesting that he spends the majority of his awake time free to move in safe play areas. You aren’t “putting” him somewhere all day. You are giving him a place where he is free to move and doesn’t have to be interrupted with “No, that’s not safe, don’t touch that”. And you are also spending time there with him.
Sit on the floor to one side of his play area. Enjoy what he does. Respond when he looks toward you. Be available if he wants to take a break and be held, but stay there on the floor while you hold him so that he can easily choose to go back to playing.
Magda Gerber called this kind of engaged observation “Wants nothing quality time.”
Then, don’t sneak away, but say, “I’m going to do some work now (or whatever). I’ll be nearby if you need me.” If he objects, and you think he still has energy to play, you could say, “I hear you. You didn’t want me to leave. I’ll be coming back in five minutes.”
Don’t allow him to cry for more than a few minutes without returning to sit with him, but keep in mind that he’s never going to say, “Oh, go ahead mom and enjoy your time in the bathroom”. Parenting is building a relationship. He has to learn about your needs, too. And he’s going to object to lots of things you do or want him to do over the years. He has a right. Acknowledge his differing opinion, but whether it’s reading the paper, working nearby, or going to get a glass of water, take care of yourself, even when he complains.
Sitting up. Your boy’s desire to sit up, and you helping him to do so, is a big part of what is getting in the way with his independent play. Whatever we do with our babies becomes habit for them. And it sounds like your darling boy has the expectation that you will sit him up (eventually). If he was not used to you positioning him that way, he would not request that from you, or try to sit up that way himself. When babies sit themselves up they do so from an all-fours crawling position, or from lying on their sides, never from their backs (unless they are amazing, mini Jack Lalannes!)
When your son asks you to sit him up, talk to him. “I know I pull you up sometimes, but now I’m going to let you move on your own.” If he gets too frustrated and cries, pick him up and hold him in your arms to give him a break, but don’t sit him up on the floor. Why? Because our baby gets in the habit of being positioned, and his anticipation of our intervention distracts him from playing and interferes with his natural gross motor development. Infants and toddlers need to practice and experiment with all the “in-between” positions, including twisting, kicking, stretching, rolling, pivoting, eventually scooting, rocking on all fours, then sitting, crawling, etc.
Rolling and pleading. The rolling is wonderful! When he “pleads” to be picked up, go to him and talk to him first, letting him know you hear him. If that doesn’t calm him, lie down next to him and try hanging out for a little while. If he continues to show discomfort, hold him on your lap on the floor. He may go back to playing. The idea is to intervene immediately, but as minimally as possible. Often our babies just want to know that we understand.
If he has rested in your arms, but still seems bored with playing, it usually means he needs a nap.
Mary Ellen, I wish you were in one of my classes…this would be so much easier to explain. Please comment back with more information to guide me…and once again, bravo!
(This is the first of several posts I’ll be writing in response to questions about the nuts and bolts of helping babies play independently. Please contribute any queries or comments.)