Cancel the performance! Help your child stay engaged while keeping your sanity.

Do you ever find yourself exhausted at the end of the day? You spent all day thinking of ways to keep your child “occupied?” Maybe you’re thinking that your job as a parent means you need to constantly provide activities and materials for your child. Good news! You’ve been spending all of your time to entertain your child. What your child really needs is free time to explore her environment, to discover and wonder. Providing stimulating materials based on her particular interest will help the most. Instead of “teaching” her how to work with the materials, give her space to explore them freely. 

Your child needs engagement, not entertainment.

If your child is engaged, you can be sure she is learning exactly what she needs, and that she is fulfilled. If she’s clamoring for your attention and you are finding that you can’t get anything accomplished, try to truly listen to what she’s telling you. Maybe she needs fifteen minutes of your undivided attention. Or perhaps it is the materials; have they grown stale? Are there too many materials? Think about what she needs in order to become completely immersed in her play. 

In addition, try to let go of some of your expectations regarding product and mess. If you’re concerned that your child has something to show for his hour of working with paint, then you’re setting both of you up for frustration. Similarly, if you are concerned about keeping things clean, then you’re definitely going to be upset! Make sure to set both of you up for success. If you want a clean house, save messy activities for outside, or another day. Constantly cleaning up after your child will only lead to exhaustion and disappointment.

Accept the mess!

I like referencing the definitions for entertainment and engagement. Entertainment is defined as “putting on a show, a performance, pleasing to others.” Conversely, engagement is defined as “seeking participation, as in a partnership; having mutual participation in; sharing in a mutual experience.” Just looking at these definitions can be illuminating. Thinking in terms of your parenting, can you see the difference? One perspective has you inherently doing something to or for your child at all times. The other has you inviting them into a relationship in which you both participate in and in which you share the experience.

Entertaining your child all day will leave you feeling exhausted, depleted, and resentful. It will leave your child wanting more. He will grow to expect that others will constantly provide extrinsic stimulation and motivation. Helping your child become and remain engaged will leave you free to marvel at your his capabilities; to wonder and learn alongside them. You will have the freedom to participate in activities that you yourself need or want to do.

Respectful parenting means everyone’s needs are met.

Providing engaging opportunities for your child allows him to discover his own interests and to pursue them.  It will leave your child fulfilled and able to ask for what he needs as well as better equipped to supply it himself. He will learn that he can and should let his interests dictate on what he works. Most importantly, he will build independence and self reliance while beginning to view you as a separate person who is not responsible for providing him with something to do every minute of the day.

Remember to try and view your role as parent as a partnership. Your responsibilities in the partnership may seem daunting, but you have rights as well. Find a balance between yours and your child’s needs. If you remind yourself that you are enough, your child is capable enough, and his environment is engaging enough, you will find yourself enjoying the partnership much more. Give yourself and your child the space to grow and learn together, without external pressure. Your child’s needs will be met and so will yours; the ultimate win/win!

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