Living with Children: Playing well with toddlers

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QUESTION: I have two boys, 18 months and 33 months. How much time each day should I spend involved in activities with them? Also, they chase one another around the house and other sorts of roughhousing, but they hardly ever play with their educational toys. Is there some way I can get them interested in these things?

ANSWER: The notion that parents need to get down on the floor and play with toddlers a certain amount of time each day is very post-1960s (i.e., without substance). If you feel like getting down on the floor and making a block castle with one of your children, do so. On the other hand, if you don’t feel like it, then don’t. Your children should not learn that you are an on-call playmate.

Please don’t try to fill some Daily Play with the Kids Quota, and when you do play with them, don’t conduct “activities” (another example of modern parenting). Just play. Have fun. Let your crazy loose. Then, when you’ve had enough, simply excuse yourself and go do your own thing.

In the long run, it is best that they learn to play by themselves. If you feel the need to be involved with them, then read to them two or three times a day for thirty minutes per. In addition to developing their imaginations, reading will also calm them down for a while — a benefit to you, I assume.

At this age, a child’s play is not very organized. You need not take pains to organize it or turn it into a specific “learning experience.” The running, chasing, and jumping that your boys are doing is both very toddler-like and very boy-like and in their own boisterous way, they’re learning a lot.

To bring a modicum of peace into your life, mandate several “quiet times” a day during which the children are separated and must play quietly for, say, fifteen minutes. Use a timer to define the quiet period. When they’re able to handle fifteen minutes, extend it to twenty, and so on.

As for their toys, remove the toys they aren’t playing with. Most of the manufactured toys on the shelves today should remain on the shelves. They’re worthless. The packaging and bright colors attract a child’s attention, but once the toy is in a child’s hands, it might have a “play life” of less than fifteen minutes, and sometimes that’s a stretch.

The toys they aren’t playing with should disappear quietly, one or two at a time, and be replaced with boxes and pots and pans and wooden spoons and so on. Give the junk to charity.

Once you’re down to five or ten toys that the boys do, in fact, play with, start a toy library. Store the toys in a closet and only let each child have one toy at a time. When a child is finished with one toy, he can exchange it for another one.

This will slowly help their play become more focused. It will also dramatically reduce toy clutter around the house. Yay!

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]