I have run my preschool for 30 years and each year we are finding that young children, even toddlers are struggling to become involved in, initiate or venture off to play. Being a firm advocate supporting that children LEARN THROUGH PLAY, it saddens me that something that SHOULD be natural to all children (even tiny infants, who track a shadow or respond to a friendly voice), is NO longer happening naturally.

We have been observing the children in our school, as well as having discussions with other teachers and caregivers and we have come up with possible reasons for this lack of self motivation and inability to initiate an activity or become engrossed in it.

We have found that what is lacking MOST in the lives of children is TIME. Funny to say that as TIME is the same for everyone but actually TIME for children is crucial. I have a cross stitched frame in my office which my amazing mom (now late mom) lovingly stitched for my preschool. It says: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO SPEND ON YOUR CHILD IS TIME.

Think about that……TIME….. so you think you are all spending time with your child and yes you do but wait a minute…….

The TIME we are talking about is TIME of full attention, full focus, genuine, real listening, meaningful conversations, (yes even with a 1 year old) responding to what the child is really saying, time just reading or telling a story, time truly observing your child and noticing his/ her interests, time pretending to drink the endless cups of ‘tea’ they bring you (repetition for a child strengthens the neurons in their brains- so yes it is great that they keep repeating the same action or game- it means their brain is developing properly), TIME singing with them in the bath, TIME playing ball, TIME planting or playing with mud……..endless wonderful TIME opportunities.

Not this kind of TIME: checking your cell phone or lap top while you are playing with them, giving them your cell phone to keep them quiet rather than dealing with why they are actually crying, hurriedly reading a bedtime story because you have to go do something else, not watching TV with your child (what are they actually watching? Some kiddy shows are inappropriate for children under 7 years old, and totally inappropriate if under the age of 3) taking them to a public play area where you are not interacting with your child or time buying them toys they will hardly play with.

Parenting is difficult these days, yes maybe BUT actually it is NOT. Children do not ask for much, in fact this is all they ask for:

LOVE– have you really bonded with your child? We all need love- love makes us feel valued and GENUINE TIME spent with your child allows them to feel LOVED

TRUST – A child who knows that every day he/ she will spend GENUINE TIME with their parent, will learn to TRUST the parents, to know that at some stage there will be a GENUINE TIME slot for him/ her. Fully focused time.

SECURITY– If a child feels loved and can trust, they will feel safe. Set routine of certain activities, simple rules, boundaries and consequences makes a child feel secure- they will sense that within these boundaries they can feel safe. (You know they tend to trust and respect the person setting these boundaries- usually the one parent who sticks to the rules and is consistent)

The best way to ensure that your child gets a head start from home is to spend TIME with your child. Children need true connections with their parents, real interactions: these should happen naturally, just in everyday life experiences at home, a walk in the park, riding bikes together, collecting leaves in the garden, pretending to have a tea party, these should cost NO MONEY the only cost will be some TIME- these times can never be remade– the first 7 years of your child’s life is the time in which the brain develops to 90% of the whole brain development- perhaps you can see why the BEST INVESTMENT in your child is at this TIME of their lives and the best investment is TIME- playing, connecting, laughing, crying and learning together

HOW? Even ten minutes of GENUINE one- on- one or family TIME a few times a day is enough. Once the child feels that GENUINE INTEREST AND CONNECTION, he/ she will happily wander off and feel secure enough to become involved in playing by him/ herself knowing you are close by. Put your phones away, focus only on your child, forget about the dishes or the perfectly tidy house….

PLAYING WITH YOUR CHILD EQUATES TO SPENDING TIME WITH THEM WHICH WILL RESULT IN FEELINGS OF LOVE, TRUST AND SECURITY

WE DO NOT STOP PLAYING BECAUSE WE GET OLD…..WE GET OLD BECAUSE WE STOP PLAYING – so play with your child, real active fun play, not just entertaining them, allowing them to use their own imagination, folding washing, helping to prepare meals, set tables pretend play, messy play…….make ‘playtime’ out of real life chores and duties, In this way you find time to play together, while you are getting things done.

We have watched the children settle in and we can truly say that the children behave quite differently at ‘school’ as to how their parents describe their behaviour at home. The genuine TIME spent by our teachers and care- givers has allowed them to feel safe, secure and happy. Their playroom is their happy place: they know that their teachers really listen to them, play on the floor with them, laugh with them, focus their attention on them and are guided by their needs and interests. They happily hand over their dummies and bottles straight after drop off knowing that they will be given these at sleep time or if they ‘need’ them during their day. The children follow our routine easily, hardly any negative behavioural issues, they are so CAPABLE and INTELLIGENT and we ACKNOWLEDGE this. When a child FEELS that we see them as CAPABLE and INTELLIGENT they TRUST us and feel safe and secure to enjoy their days without much fuss, knowing that we are there for them , fully focused should they need us. Once they truly feel this, they will be able to venture off and become involved in age appropriate play situations and activities on their own.

So it kind of makes sense to find ways to CONNECT AND INTERACT with your child, to PLAY with your child, to spend TIME, fully focused time with your baby, toddler and preschool child. Parenting will become much easier….feel free to contact me for infant, toddler and child conversations to make your life easier.

Together we are stronger

Petra