If we want our babies to receive all the many, well-documented benefits of self-directed play, Rule #1 is taking care not to interrupt. But that certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be responsive — quite the opposite in fact. Our infants and toddlers, whether playing alone or with peers, appreciate assurances that we are paying attention – subtle reminders that their self-chosen antics intrigue and even delight us.
Through sensitive observation and a little practice, we can learn how to read our child’s cues and provide these responses without interrupting, interfering, directing. Simple, brief descriptions of the things we notice our baby experiencing (hearing, seeing, doing, etc.) encourage inner-directed play to continue and also teach language in the most age-appropriate, meaningful, effective way. Soon these experiential language “lessons” feel perfectly natural for both of us.
But I’m afraid this may be sounding way more complicated than it is. This is far easier to demonstrate than to explain (for me at least). So, here are a few brief examples…
(Also in this video: a boy beginning to walk; infants interacting in what could be perceived as conflict, but looks to me like an attempt to play together; babies saying words that are a little hard to comprehend just yet, but are the beginnings of words just the same; undeniably brilliant children! No actors were hired.)
Letting babies know that we notice and understand (especially when they “ask” by verbalizing or making eye contact with us) encourages communication and language development, their awareness, trust in their instincts, and forges deeper bonds between us and our babies. What could be more gratifying than knowing that mommy, daddy, teacher, caregiver are not only watching, they’re sharing the child’s experience? And they get it.
(I share more about connecting with children authentically in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting)