A Toddler’s Fascination With Playing With Car Buttons
Looking for a little advice: My 17-month-old has recently become obsessed with sitting in the driver’s seat of the car and playing with the buttons and whatnot. He will play happily for ages. We will be sitting in the living room and he will take my hand and whine and go to the door and shout and scream if we don’t go out to the car. So, we go, and then I’ll just sit in the passenger seat for an hour whilst he plays. I am guessing the novelty will wear off soon but am I right in letting him do this?!
Parenting a Brilliant Baby
When I ran your question by my husband, Dr. Bill (now in his 50th year as a pediatrician), he promptly replied: “Wow! What a brilliant baby!” Let’s approach this in two ways:
- Why your baby is doing this?
- How you as a mom might smartly react?
Usually, a 17-month-old toddler has a short attention span, flitting from one plaything to another plaything. The fact that your toddler can focus for so long, and nearly every day, on the same task is a clue for you to celebrate that you are mothering a brilliant baby. He likes sitting “in the driver’s seat” because he notices when sitting in his relatively boring car seat in the back that the driver’s seat is where the action is, or, in his young mind, where the novelty and fun is.
Growing Baby’s Brain
After birth, a baby’s brain grows the fastest in the first two years. The interactions that trigger the most brain-tissue growth are cause-and-effect: “I push this button, this happens.” As he’s playing, watch carefully and notice that he is probably button-playing a bit differently each day as he tests novelty. New actions and reactions with toys are what keep toddlers engaged – and that is what grows more brain connections.
A “Playschool” Approach
Also, there are things you can do to make the driver’s seat a mini playschool. Interact with him as he plays with the buttons, like, “Can you find a circle?” or “Where is the green button?” for instance. Children often learn more when they’re engaged in a play activity while interacting with a parent or caregiver. Think of the effect of playing with your child as playschool squared.
Sooner or later your little guy is likely to get bored with playing in the car driver’s seat, yet in the meantime see if there are toys you can get him that sit on the floor in your house that resemble all the interactions from the driver’s seat in the car. Stacking blocks is now – and probably forever will be – the top toy for engaging toddlers. Stack blocks with him. When he knocks them over, you both clap your hands, and then you rebuild together. Get push-button toys where he pushes certain buttons and levers and the toy makes a noise, a movement, or a different color light goes on. Again, it’s make-things-happen toys that build baby brains, such as “I push this, this happens. I’m smart, and that’s fun!”
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Some days it may not be realistic to spend an hour of playtime in the car, so use this as a chance to introduce some healthy boundaries and listening skills. For instance, say to your little one, “We are going to play in the car until this timer goes off. When we hear the timer go off, we have to be all done and say bye-bye car”.
Now for “mommy brain.” If you ask three people on advice for this, you’re likely to get three different answers, with one being: “You’re spoiling him by always giving in.” Ignore those answers. Your toddler is not manipulating you and you are not spoiling him by giving in. You are building trust. He’s saying to you: “Mommy, that’s the playschool I want to go to – the driver’s seat.” You, the teacher, realize that’s where he feels the smartest and so your brain blends with his brain – mommy brain and baby brain work together.
Here’s a piece of advice I have given many times and one that particularly fits your situation. The next time your toddler grabs your hand and pulls you toward the car, think: “If I were my child, how would I want my mother to react in this situation?” You’ll always get it right. You’re the mom and your brain is wired to blend with your child’s brain.
Celebrate this brilliance! I am going to make a prediction. In a few years, a preschool or schoolteacher is going to say to you: “What a brilliant child you have! What did you do?” Replay those playschool memories.
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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.”