8 Tips for Playtime
Question: How do I handle my two-year-old who isn’t into independent play and just wants me to play with him all the time? He has been a lot more needy since the shelter-in-place orders.
Answer: What your child is doing is normal behavior, especially during a time of stress. One of the first tools I learned as a new mom trying to understand the needs of my child and how to best respond was to imagine: “If I were my child, how would I want my mother to react?” Then, that is what I would do, and it nearly always worked.
Tip #1: Minimize Your Stress
First, celebrate your child’s sensitivity. He obviously feels something different is going on, most likely because his favorite and most-trusted person in the whole wide world – his mom – is acting differently. If you are worried about all the stuff that is going on in the world, your child will pick up on that and most likely will glom onto you even more.
Tip #: Soak in “Face Time”
Celebrate the fact that you are his favorite and most trusted teacher. Play is not only fun, it is also an opportunity to teach. The fact that he likes to glom onto you during play means that he enjoys being with you, and that he enjoys learning with you. There is no better “face time” in the life of a growing child than looking at the fun and excited face of Mom when you build a block tower or scribble a picture together. Moms are good at big, wide exaggerated facial expressions of “wow!” Toddlers like that.
Tip #3: Be in the Moment
Of course, there will be times when you may be thinking, “I’m getting nothing done. I could be doing all that work that’s piling up on my desk, but instead I’m just sitting here on the floor playing blocks with my child…” While playing with children may not always be intellectually stimulating for you, it is for your child. It also encourages you to live in and enjoy the moment, something that children are particularly good at and adults must relearn.
Tip #4: Two Baby B’s
Here are some play tips that worked for me when my children were between two and three years of age, a stage in which some permanent memories are just beginning to form. Toddlers have a short attention span and like novelty. You will find yourself constantly changing from one game to another. For a two-year-old the two baby B’s – blocks and balls – remain the favorite parent-child play. Two-year-olds are, according to Maria Montessori, in a period of sensitivity to order, so this is a good time to use play to teach having order with the toys. Show him how to put away one toy where it belongs on a shelf or in a basket before taking out another one.
Tip #5: Learning with a Parent is Number One
While of course young children enjoy the stimulation of video games (not advised for a child this young at any rate) and playing with battery-operated toys, there is no better learning than playing with a parent. It teaches children to enjoy being with people rather than things. No matter how high-tech a toy is, it can never replace the interactive faces of Mom and Dad. And who even needs toys all that much?
Tip #6: Incorporate your Toddler
A great play-together pastime can be a daily fitness routine for you that your toddler gets to be part of. If you use a workout video, plan for it before naptime and invite your little guy to exercise with you – toddlers love to mimic adults. You can bring imagination into your fitness fun by choosing different animals to mimic while you both run around making animal sounds. Get creative with music – sing songs while you hold a workout move, for example, singing “London Bridge Is Falling Down” while in a plank pose and letting your toddler crawl under the “bridge”.
Tip #7: Let Nature be your Playground
Even better, playing outside in nature is like play-school squared. Two-year-olds are made to run and play. Thankfully by now, everyone knows that “shelter in place” does not mean “sit inside and stew.” Enjoy a social-distancing walk in the park, a nearby garden, in your neighborhood, or just in your own backyard, collecting rocks or picking leaves off a tree. One of my favorite memories is watching our two-year-old sit next to our garden, picking at the leaves and looking intently at each one. I pictured all those wheels in his brain turning as he was trying to figure out what all those different textures and colors meant.
There is nothing more fun than changing things up and having lunch be a picnic outside on a blanket. And for running off toddler energy, teach him to run laps that you set up – though he will probably want you running with him. That is great as a stress reducer for you too!
Tip #8: Dive into the Opportunity
During this time of “sheltering in place” you have a chance to turn a possible problem into an opportunity for growth with your child. Enjoy this special time with your toddler – this beautiful stage of interdependency will pass, but your memories will last a lifetime.
Written By: Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”