Monday, February 27, 2017

Parenthood: Week 193 – How To Play With A Toddler

Sometimes it’s easy.

Ollie requests, “Daddy watch!” so I sit on the floor and watch him play and he is content but other times it's more complicated. When a toddler asks you to play with them, they can be requesting a range of things. The little one could simply want you to watch, they may want you to play a board game with them, or they want to order you around and tell you what to do in the guise of “playing.”

Watching how children’s sense of play develops is another fascinating thing to witness like speech acquisition and the development of locomotion (e.g. crawling to walking).

In toddlerhood two things start coming to the fore in the realm of play: extended independent play and interactive play.  Much of what babies and younger toddler do is parallel play. This is when two kids sit near each other and play sitting next to each other but don't actually interact with each other while playing. It’s like two adults sitting next to each other on a plane reading books individually. There is a sense that the other person is there which can be comforting, but the activity is not reliant on human interaction to progress forward. This parallel play refers mostly to peer interactions as babies do a lot of interactive play with adults.

When Ollie is in the right mood and he has the right activity in front of him, he can individually play for a solid half an hour. It’s a fascinating thing to watch.  Also, this can be really convenient when this time lines up time I need to spend on chores.

Then there are moments when I Ollie asks me to play with him.

Sometimes it’s all good. We play with blocks, we are on the same page and it’s fine. However there are times, when I don’t put the blocks where Ollie wants and he gets frustrated with me and gets bossy. Sometimes I just do what he says after making him ask politely and others times I put up resistance explaining that I want to play a different way. Yeah, this often doesn’t go very well. It’s a process, but we are getting there.

While I’m trying to help Ollie learn to play in a way that he “should.” I find myself hesitating at times and letting Ollie teach me how to play. Today we played a game called “traffic jam.” We put his cars and other toys in a row, Ollie would describe the lights changing and at some point we would move the cars a couple inches. Then we would add more objects to the traffic jam. We repeated this a bunch of times for a solid half an hour. It took me a while to understand what he was doing and what he wanted me to do, and I still don’t completely get what he got out of this game, but it engaged him and he wanted to share this time with me, so I went with it.

Next time a toddler asks you to play, go with it. There may be some frustration and some confusion, but don’t forget, the most important thing is not how you two play but rather that you play together.

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