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There IS a time when I fully endorse ignoring your child – but it’s not when they’re tantruming or attention-seeking. Here it is! What’s happening in a child’s brain when they’re playing is comparable to what’s happening in an adult’s brain when they’re deep in the flow of work. They are ultra focused, in a parallel world – they’re engrossed in an important task. Mostly – they’re learning.
When you’re deep in creative work – feeling yourself at the edge of discovery, stretching your limits – there’s an exhilarating energy surging through your body Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi Me-high Cheek-sent-me-high coined the term “flow” and applied it to activities such as art, play and work.
The absolute worst thing you can do to someone in a state of flow is to interrupt them. You are guaranteed to get grouchiness. Whether it’s your spouse in the depth of a writing flow or your child deep in imaginary play.
2 things that happen when you mess with a child’s play:
1. you get a grouchy child who doesn’t want to cooperate with you
2. you minimize your childs interest and even their ability to focus on independent play – because if they are constantly interrupted, why sink deep into the world of play
there are countless studies that prove the vitality of play to every kind of development – social, intelligence, sensory, fine motor, gross motor, the list goes on. But that’s a topic for another episode. The important idea here is stop interrupting your childs – and don’t let anyone else interrupt either.
Begin to cultivate a language of respect to the childs work, their play:
Breaking away from your childs play:
– Watch passively, no suggestions.
If your child absolutely wants you to be part of their play – keep your involvement to a minimum. Try just sitting near (and slowly with time further and further) and keeping your comments to acknowledgements “mmm”, “aha”. Try not to give suggestions. If your child asks you for help or what to do try to give the question back to them so for example “Hmm, that man isn’t managing to sit on the horse. hmmm. What should we do?”. Do not solve it for them. Remember: play is a journey, not a destination. If you’re playing for your child they’re not reaping any of the benefits, they’re only learning that they can’t play alone.
– Wait for eye contact from your child.
If you have to disrupt the play (and strongly consider whether you really do – remember, play is gold) – wait for the child to break away from what they’re doing first. This is similar to waking someone up when they’re at the end of a sleep cycle rather than in the middle. If you have to disrupt the play, after receiving eye contact from your child you could say “I see you’re really busy there, let me know when I can talk to you.” It’s important that if you need to interrupt the play you both acknowledge the disappointment and offer a clear time when the child can resume the play.
– Whisper. Keep noises and disruptions to a minimum.
Make sure your baby doesn’t disrupt your toddler by giving your toddler a safe space to play like an elevated table or a different room. Keep your phone ringer low and disruptions to a minimum.
Giving your child the respect to play in full, uninterrupted will give them invaluable gifts of focus, of in depth thought and of self discovery. It will also give them the gift of self reliance – the ability to play on their own.