According to dismaying statistics published recently by Common Sense Media, raising infants and toddlers without using TV as a babysitter has become a countercultural choice — the path less taken. Why are we so stuck on doing something we know is, at best, a waste of time for our babies?
In A Creative Alternative To Baby TV Time, I speculated that parents desperately need breaks from the 24/7 job of baby care, especially in those first years (been there!). Sometimes TV can seem the easiest or only answer. The majority of these parents must not be aware that there is a healthier, safer way that’s guaranteed to have a positive impact on their baby’s developing brain…
Independent play keeps babies safely occupied, while also providing an essential developmental opportunity. Not only is inner-directed and uninterrupted play a profoundly educational, therapeutic, creative (the list goes on) activity for babies, it’s also the key to raising a child capable of self-entertainment. Provided with safe places to play, these babies have no need for TV.
The American Academy of Pediatrics corroborated these statements when it (all too briefly) mentioned a viable alternative to TV use in its recent update to recommendations for children under 2: leave the baby to play alone. Unfortunately, they neglected to include the most important element of solo play: a 100% safe, gated off area. Parents listening to the report might have been imagining their babies wandering around the house while they went to the bathroom and thinking, ‘no way am I going to do that!’ Nor should they.
Establishing the play ‘habit’ takes a bit more thought and conscious effort in the beginning than does plunking a baby in front of TV. It’s worth it, though, and I can’t imagine a better description of the process than the account and video sent to me by Kerry, a mum from New Zealand…
I’m so happy I’ve persevered with uninterrupted play. I can definitely see the results now. My baby is very content to explore his environment.
The biggest thing for me was TRUST – trusting him to move just the way he needs to, trusting him to spend his time doing what is most relevant to his learning, trusting him to let me know when he needs me. By doing this I have got more and more enjoyment out of observing him and I think we both get more satisfaction out of each small achievement. It’s like watching life unfold.
I’ve also found it’s almost about going *against* your instincts – to not rattle a toy in his face when he’s day dreaming, to not help him straight away when he’s stuck or frustrated, to not ‘teach’ him how to reach his next milestone. When he’s playing, he’s being, and by respecting that he’s learnt to love his time on the floor.
Kobe is my ‘proof’ that babies move through physical milestones naturally without the need for adult intervention or teaching. He has found his hands and feet, reached for toys, rolled one way, rolled the other, rolled back, turned in a circle, and I didn’t teach him a thing!
So that’s a couple things, otherwise I always place him on his back first, don’t use any equipment that restricts movement, give him opportunities to play every time he’s awake, give him full attention during care moments, leave the room sometimes when he’s settled and playing (always tell him I’ll be back in 1 minute), acknowledge eye-contact and any frustrations, and make time for interactive play time too (lots of cuddles and singing etc.).
(Kerry mentioned that she accidentally erased the sound from this video, so we’re unable to hear Kobe reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 while he plays.)
P.S. Kobe has just started daycare and the teachers have commented on his agility and confidence in his movements, his ability to self-soothe and the way he anticipates and responds to adult’s actions…. I’m such proud mum!
I share more about child-led play and respectful care in my book:
Thank you, Kerry!
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 the RIE philosophy. 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