First let me wish you a happy holiday today. This is such an exciting time I doubt you will take time out to read this weekly newspaper. I am going to assume you will not be reading this until the next day.
Now that the holidays are over, it is time for your little one to start to play with some of the many exciting things he received. This is an excellent time for you to encourage independent play for your child.
Babies are great fun to play with. However, sometimes it is nice to have them play alone. If you are always the playmate for your child, he will have a difficult time when you leave the room, answer the telephone, or go to the bathroom.
It is to your advantage to help him learn to entertain himself for a short amount of time. Your 1-year-old can play alone for 10-20 minutes in a crib or in a child-proofed area. But most children need a little nudge to get them used to playing by themselves.
There are a number of things you can do that will help him learn to play by himself:
1. Try to get him playing with something that he can do alone, like blocks.
2. Play with him for a few minutes, then stop and just sit there. Talk with him, but do not be an active participant in what he is doing for a while.
3. Gradually move further away over the next few days until you can sit across the room but still talk with him from time to time.
4. Leave the room for a few seconds. Tell him you are going away for a moment, then step into the next room.
5. When he realizes you are gone, he may fuss a little. Do not rush back in. Tell him you are in the kitchen and will be right back.
6. Gradually extend the amount of time you are away.
You are not trying to leave him alone all the time. You just need to have him learn to play independently which gives you a great deal more freedom to get the things done you are trying to finish.
As your child grows, you may still need to encourage independent activities. One of the first area you will see some independence is in dressing. At first, you can encourage your child to put on the clothes that you have put out for him to wear.
Ultimately, he will want to pick his own clothes. Parents are wise to give a child a chance for this kind of freedom of choice even though it requires considerable patience.
With an older child, you may need to encourage his independence by asking for his help. If you find yourself doing things for your child that he can do for himself, it is time to pull back. You don’t want your message to him to be that he is not capable of doing things for himself.
The message you want to send to him is you have confidence in his abilities. Without this message, your child may lack independence and self-esteem. Instead of teaching him to be independent, you may be teaching him to develop “learned helplessness.”
Make a list for yourself of things that you will encourage your child to do for himself — tasks such as brushing his teeth or picking up his toys. Putting the peanut butter away after he makes a sandwich or putting his dirty clothes in the wash are tasks he can learn to do independently.
Don’t expect to do too much, but take one opportunity at a time.
Whether your child is one or seven, your job is clear: You need to encourage his special talents to do things independently. It is pretty much like the other lessons in life that must be taught and taught by you. Start early. Your job goes on for a long time.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. To reach First Teacher Executive Director Patty Waite, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-681-2250.