My name is Chris, and I have been devouring the content on your website during the past two weeks. It has been a tremendous blessing as I seek to help my 12-month old daughter grow to her fullest potential through independent play. I’m thankful to say that she’s taken to it extremely well and seems to be happy and growing. I do have a question, however.
I’m a SAWAD (stay-and-work-at-home-dad), which means I must work some of the time my daughter is awake and playing. We have given her a safe and enclosed play area in the middle of the living room, quite large, and she loves the space. I sit next to the play area while I work so she knows I’m near. Occasionally she’ll cruise to my side and talk to me. I always make eye contact, talk back to her in a respectful tone, make goofy faces, etc. If I keep talking to her, though, she doesn’t seem to want to leave, so I do my best to look away when she breaks eye contact. It usually works in encouraging her to play by herself again.
Is this an accepted practice in RIE? I don’t want to ignore her, and if she ever tries to get my attention I respond right away. At the same time, I want to develop her solo play. I feel guilty if I don’t drop everything and start playing with her, and at the same time I feel guilty for stepping in and interrupting her playtime. I’m in a bind!
Also, I’ve noticed my daughter plays for longer periods without interruption or fussing when I’m in the kitchen. The living room is just off the kitchen, and I’m in plain view of our daughter’s play area (it’s no more than 15 feet away). If I’m cleaning up, washing dishes, fixing a meal, etc., it’s as if my lack of proximity gives her less distraction and she fuels her own playtime more consistently. I’ve thought about setting up my work station at the kitchen table where I can monitor her, all in the hope of giving her space to not be distracted by me, but I wanted your thoughts on whether that would be good/healthy?
Thank you for any light you can shed.
It sounds to me like you are implementing the RIE approach brilliantly. Yes, encourage independent uninterrupted play by providing a safe, enclosed free play area. Yes, definitely be responsive while she plays when she asks you to be, but minimally, so that her focus doesn’t suddenly switch over to you. In other words, comment on what you see, what she’s doing, check in without starting an activity of your own (like, “Oh, look what this toy can do!”). You might say, “Oh, are you showing me the red ball?” Or simply, “You came over to say hi. It’s good to see you.” No need to start a conversation, just follow her lead. And yes, when she breaks eye contact, you can, too…she’s probably done checking in.
The goofy faces might be a tad too intriguing and engaging. I’d save your (no doubt extraordinary) talent for the times that you want to encourage connectedness and partnership…mealtimes, diaper changes, bathing, tooth brushing, etc.
Remember that undivided attention during these care-giving activities is vital for independent play to work. Children fill up with our attention, and that enables them to enjoy playing for extended periods on their own.
Also, balance the time when you are doing your work with times when you are fully attentive while she plays. Sit on the floor with her, observe and appreciate her self-initiated activities while staying in responsive mode so that her play remains “hers”.
When you are working and she persists in wanting your attention, don’t be afraid to say, “I have to go back to work right now, but I’m looking forward to our snack together in a few minutes” (and, again, be attentive during snack time, so that your daughter is nourished by your caring presence). Even if she disagrees and complains or cries a little, this is a wonderfully honest, authentic and respectful way to conduct your relationship…especially when you remember to always acknowledge her feelings, “I know, it’s hard to wait for me to finish, but I must do a couple more things. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.” If you do this with confidence, she will learn to accept the fact that you have needs, too. And this will ensure that you keep taking care of yourself, which means you won’t be as likely to lose patience or your temper.
If you are responding to her overtures, her calls or looks toward you, etc., you will never have to worry that you are interrupting her. It’s only when you initiate engagement that you can interrupt. You can always trust your daughter’s cues.
The kitchen idea sounds just fine, too. What bliss to be able to do your work near your baby while she does hers!
Please keep me posted and thanks for checking in…
(Photo by abbiebatchelder on Flickr)
This post spoke to me so much! I am a stay-and-work-at-home-mom and balancing it all can be a struggle. I try to do most of my work in the evenings after my daughter is in bed, but sometimes I have to do some work during the day.
Yes, it certainly can be a struggle and this framework definitely helps. Please let me know if you have specific questions.
No specific questions right now, just that I so much appreciate the freedom that RIE gives us as parents. We all struggle with so much guilt and seem to think that we are supposed to be 100% available to play every single second, in order to be good parents. And yet it makes perfect sense that fostering independent play is not only healthy for our relationship but for her growth as a person. I’ve said it so many times but I’ll say it again, I really wish I’d found RIE sooner!
My daughter is 2 years old. I do work form home. I have few client calls during day time. My daughter is always around. Can you please suggest if how can I manage such situations.
This is fantastic advice — something I haven’t seen before! Wish I had known more about RIE when I was trying to balance writing at home with having my boys around. I will share this!
Thank you, Suchada! This is Magda Gerber’s advice and it was a godsend for me…gave me great clarity about what a typical day with a baby could look like. Once this becomes habit, it really does work! And it is guilt-free because it is so extremely healthy and positive for our children, too.
what a godsend to see this post. we have a 10 month old boy and i, too, am trying to balance work from home with him.
my specific question is how long is it “fair” for him to have independent play without my interaction.
similar to the first inquirer, he seems to be more than fine when i’m very “involved” in housework and he is left to independent play. however, when it’s office work, his patience is much shorter. i’m guessing it’s because, at least to an infant, working at a computer seems like i’m not really engaged in something else.
any advise on how to make the office work seem, at least to him, as “necessary” as when i do house work?
GREAT post and thank you! i am always so appreciative of your insight.
Thanks, Cara, those are great questions. I think “fair” is about totally trusting the child. Children don’t hide their feelings at this age. They will freely tell you when they want you. They don’t hold back. So, if we trust our child to be a capable communicator and also believe him capable of being deeply involved in learning and exploring, we can safely wait for him to signal us. That way we are certain to not be interrupting something important our baby might be doing or thinking about. Of course, if you choose to interrupt sometimes, that’s not the end of the world, but interrupting generally tends to discourage a long attention span.
Regarding the computer, I’m wondering if he sees the screen, because that would definitely be a distraction. Lighted screens are very distracting and I would set things up so that he cannot see the screen from his play area. Also, if he sometimes joins you at the computer, that can become a draw for him. If he sees you there, he thinks about being there with you. Otherwise, this might just be a case of needing to remind him, “I’m going to be working here at my computer for a few minutes while you play. I’ll be coming over to join you soon.” As I mentioned to Chris, projecting confidence is a key element to this working. Please keep me posted!
This sounds good in theory, but I can say from experience that it doesn’t really work well in pracitce, especially as toddlers get older, more aware and more demanding.
I’m a freelance writer, and in order to do my job well, I need stretches of uninterrupted time (like 2-3 hours), so I have to have a babysitter come to the house while I work.
I’ve tried doing quick tasks, like returning e-mail, with my son playing nearby when he was under 18 months and as soon as he realized I was engaged in something else (something sedentary), he just wouldn’t let me be. And this is a kid who plays really well by himself!
But for some reason he usually lets me cook or clean interrupted — maybe because I’m on my feet and I *look* busy. But now he’s two and I think he understands the concept that I have to do something else right now and I’ll play with him as soon as I’m done.
Ah well. To each his own, I guess. 🙂
Kelly, I respectfully disagree. This does work really well for many parents I know, including myself, but probably not for 2-3 hours without interruption! And writing is the kind of work that requires a feeling of free space (for me, at least). I need to lose myself, and that’s difficult with a baby nearby (and that’s also the reason it didn’t work for me to bed share. I’m too sensitive and couldn’t sleep a wink.)
The way you set up this kind of play and foster it is important. This also works best if it’s introduced early on… Inventing play becomes a joyful habit…becomes compelling for the child… The child learns to revel in “me time”.
Also, if there is a babysitter involved, the child will naturally need undivided attention from the parent when he or she returns. And as I commented to Cara, screens are attention grabbers. If your baby sees you paying attention to a screen, he wants to be there, too.
Kelly, I totally agree with you. You sound like you are describing my situation, except that I can’t get 10 minutes of time working if my son sees me. I had set up a play area next to my work space in my home office, but he wants to be with me on my side of the space. It’s true, I’m working on the computer and he wants to play with my computer. But he also always wants ME. And whenever he engages with me, I give him my undivided attention, but he doesn’t fill up on that and then go play by himself. He is just starting to have periods of independent play at 21-22 months of age that last maybe 10 minutes at most. I have a babysitter come to my house so that I can work. If he sees me, all bets are off, so I have to hide and sneak around my own house! Thoughts? Thanks!
My son is five months old and is not yet fully on the move. Of course, we’re baby proofing the whole house but I’m wondering how long he might be more comfortable in an enclosed safe area? How long is it appropriate to use an enclosed safe area?
Lainey, the enclosed play area can be appropriate until age 2 or so. When children have “bonded” with their wonderful play space, they will usually continue to enjoy it as they get older, long past the time the gate has be removed.
Hi Janet, I have a 14 weeks baby and I really want to work from home. I have no idea where to start. Any advice?
Hi Kiki! I’m writing a new post about this that I will share soon, but in the meantime, you might want to read: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/02/infant-play-great-minds-at-work-captured-on-video/
Hi Janet, I’ve been following your blog for a while, and I have put many of your concepts into practice with my now 11 month old son. And I’m happy to say he plays WONDERFULLY by himself. The one problem is he’s so safe and happy playing in his bedroom, which is great, except that it’s cut off from the rest of the house, and I have to use the bathroom, take care of chores, and practice musical instruments (I’m a musician) at other times of the day, and while he’s awake. If I step out, even with telling him, “I need to leave to take care of something, etc…” He gets very upset, and it takes a good 5 minutes to calm him down and get him interested back in his toys. I end up being stuck in his room, a little bored honestly, and feeling frustrated I can’t get other things taken care of. When I bring him into the living room or kitchen he seems overwhelmed, wants to be held, and clingy, even with a makeshift enclosed space and familiar toys. This post helped some, but I wondered if there was any extra insight you could recommend? Thank you!
Predictability and practice is the key to this working… So, I would create a simple routine… He wakes up, eats, changes diapers, plays with you present, then you leave for a few minutes to take care of some chores and return, etc. If he cries when you leave, return briefly and acknowledge, “you didn’t want me to leave. I hear you. I’ll be back in 5 minutes”. Young children feel a million times calmer and more accepting when they know what to expect. They may still cry, but it is a “complaining” type of cry.
Telling him you will leave is essential. I would also give him the blow-by-blow before that… Now we will go to your playroom. After a few minutes I’ll go to the kitchen and then come back and watch you some more.
Keep in mind also that at 11 months there is commonly “separation anxiety”. This doesn’t mean you drop everything and never leave your boy, but try to leave for more than a few minutes while he’s going through this stage (for the next few months).
I think this is a very interesting topic and something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I am a SAHM and do part-time non-profit work. I devote most of my time to enjoying time with my two-year-old son.
Of course I have things I need to get done, but I do work very hard to incorporate my son into them. When I do laundry, I talk to him about what I’m doing and if he’s interested I include him in the process. When I’m cleaning, he LOVES to help with his own broom/dust pan or duster! When I’m cooking (this is his favorite thing to do), he will either want his own kitchen set up in our kitchen, or he enjoys playing with real pots and pans on the kitchen floor. I do find one of the most challenging things to be phone calls and computer work, for sure. When I absolutely need to make or take a call when he is awake, I try to engage him in something he really enjoys. I’m also not afraid to say to the caller on the line that I have a toddler who at times may need me while we are on this call…the caller is often amused by this, and rarely have I had an issue with needing to stop the call for a moment to speak directly to my son. This has made a world of difference to him.
I do find my son often playing on his own, and other times he will directly come over to get me, take my hand or hit the floor, specifically showing me he wants to play with me… I am so thrilled he is being so clear, I rarely will say no. There are times though I have to do something important and I let him know it will be for a few minutes, and then I will be right there to play.
Computer work is probably the hardest challenge for me, and I agree with other posters that this is very difficult. I have not made this a daily ritual and perhaps if I did, it would be easier? I do get up very early, before my son, and do most of my work either during that time, or during his naps. I find I am much more productive during those times.
Hi Janet, do you have any suggestions for working at home with a toddler? We’ve really been trying to practice RIE principles & have found they’ve helped a lot but I can’t imagine doing my work while simultaneously looking after my 19-month old son. I think he plays well by himself but there are times when he wants my attention constantly & it seems too difficult to try to work through that. I also felt like it wouldn’t be fair for me to work while he was there…though this post makes me second-guess that feeling. Is it too late to attempt to start doing a bit of work each day & expect him to play contentedly? Is that fair to him or would it be better to have someone come watch him? Thank you!
You are ALWAYS right on!!!
Aww, thanks, Rick! Please tell my kids that!
Thanks for this excellent post. Honestly, it came as a shock to me to even consider trying to get some work done while my son is awake but it makes so much sense that it could be healthy for him too. I absolutely agree with you and I would love to have my 23-month old play more independently. I am a work/stay at home mom and I currently get way too little sleep while trying to juggle finishing my dissertation and caring for my son. I have a babysitter who comes for 15 hours a week (all we can afford) but if I were able to get even a little extra work done during my son’s waking hours it would make a big difference. I was so excited to see your post today. I knew that independent play was something good for a child but from your post I get the sense that it is not only good but something that we parents should strive for and actually work towards.
Unfortunately, I did not discover RIE and your site until my son was about 16 months. I regret that my husband and I did not try to encourage much independent play prior to finding RIE. We have a large, safe enclosed play space for our son– which he loves. Whenever we are in the play space with our son, our son directs his play. However, our son will ask us to do very specific things with him–e.g. “Mommy, play with this puppet while I play with this one”, or “Mommy, pull this toy around while I pull this one”, or “Mommy, build with these blocks while I build with these”. Our son seems to love to have us basically play in parallel with a similar toy while he plays and seems to want us very close and involved. When I try to leave my son to play independently for a brief time (e.g. 10 minutes) I always tell him where I am going, what I will be doing and when I will be back. My son will usually only play for 5 minutes at the most on his own before beginning to yell repeatedly “Mommy, come back please”.
How much do you think it is ok/healthy to encourage independent play even when the child is asking for the parent to come back and play with them? I do give undivided attention during care-giving activities but I suspect that my son does not play independently because I did not try to encourage this early enough in his life. Would it be best to start with occasional very short time periods such as 10-15 minutes a couple times a day and gradually work up to more?
Thanks so much for your amazing blog! I am also a stay at home mother. My 5 month old has been rolling onto her tummy for the last couple of weeks (all by herself as we stopped doing tummy time once we discovered RIE!). However, she is teething now and seems to have forgotten how to roll back onto her back and so as soon as I put her on the floor on her back she will immediately roll to her tummy and then start screaming with frustration even if toys are within her reach. I go over to her (after giving her a few seconds to try and work it out herself) and say something like “you’re upset/you seem tired, do you want me to pick you up?” and then when she continues to scream I tell her I’m picking her up, pick her up, hold her for a while until she is calmer or seems to want to go back down then I tell her I’m putting her down and place her back down on her back. Seconds later the whole thing begins again! She seems compelled to roll but doesn’t want to be there once it happens. In your experience is this a common thing to happen or could it be related to her teething? I don’t know if I should stop trying but I’m not sure what the alternative is. I really want her to be happy playing by herself but I don’t know how to go about doing this. And occasionally she is still happy and will remember how to roll back by herself. Any suggestions gratefully received. Thanks, Alana