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)