I read a fascinating article recently on the importance of allowing your child to do things for herself. Of course, I can’t for the life of me remember where I came across this article, because I have not yet recovered from the “mommy brain” symptoms that struck during pregnancy.
So, this article of unknown origin advocates allowing babies the independence of doing things for themselves, even if it means getting a little frustrated while they figure things out.
If, for example, Baby A is trying to get herself seated on her toddler-sized chair, or trying to fit a cube into an opening for a pyramid, or trying to get a wooden puzzle piece to fit back into its slot, I shouldn’t rush to her assistance, no matter how tempted I am to get her to stop screaming at her puzzle piece. I should let her work on it until she gets it.
Similarly for babies that are but a few months old: if a baby is stretching and grunting to reach a toy, don’t just hand the toy over; let the baby keep reaching for awhile. It will undeniably be hard to listen to them complaining (loudly, in Baby A’s case), but it’s worth it to see their pride and excitement when they make it work. In a baby’s case, it will teach movement and rolling over and coordination. In my toddler’s case, it will (I hope) teach problem-solving skills, fine motor skills and most important of all: be patient, persevere and good things will come your way skills.
In that same vein, I’m beginning to realise that children, even those as young as Baby A, can benefit greatly from being left to their own devices. It seems we are so preconditioned as mothers to make sure every moment of a baby’s day counts – planning productive playtime activities, booking play dates, scheduling trips to the park, designating a reading time and tummy time and cuddle time, and so on – that it seems almost blasphemous to just let a child be. Allowing babies and children to play alone, not worrying about being in charge of their every activity or wondering how to keep them stimulated every second they are awake, seems detrimental for their emotional and mental growth. Even boredom is good for them, because ultimately, it forces them to be creative.
My list of reasons for leaving my job once Baby A turned a year old so I could be with her full-time is a long one and it continues to grow longer every day. But one main reason on that list is, paradoxically, to allow her some daily alone time so that she learns independent play and does not rely on having someone there to entertain her every moment of every day.
So far, my efforts to “neglect” Baby A for a few minutes every day have reaped some wonderful rewards. I’ve come across my daughter giving all her dolls a “bath” before dressing them in her own socks and shoes. I’ve walked in on a strange animal vignette, where several wooden animal pieces seemed most comfortable residing atop a plastic elephant’s back. I’ve heard her read her favourite books to herself, imitating the words Mr T and I use at just the right page. And I’ve had to rush to the grocery store to replenish our stash of nappies, because most of them are being worn by her ever-growing collection of stuffed animals.
Hala Kalaf is a freelance writer living in Abu Dhabi