Fun. Do They Need It?

Should we encourage babies and toddlers in individual play or should we always try to play with them? Are they even capable of entertaining themselves? Is it possible to teach them?


Every child is different. Sometimes, when a toddler age child is out of sight and you don’t know where he is, you can expect trouble. Children are very creative – pulling out wet wipes or unwinding toiler paper, smearing anything on anything – toothpaste on tiles, dried dirt on walls, the content of a diaper or potty over on bed or floor…A toddler can entertain himself, but he doesn’t know how not to be destructive while doing it. A different child may surprise us by entertaining himself while not destroying half of the house. He plays with his plastic animal toys and cubes for a half an hour and then looks at a book for another fifteen minutes, without destroying it.

That fact is, that there are children that can entertain themselves from an early age, and then there are others who, without TV, would be pulling your leg up until puberty. Why can’t they entertain themselves? Some can’t, because quite simply, no one has ever taught them. But toddlers can still be taught. Mainly due to underdeveloped attention, they concentrate with difficulties and can do so only for a short amount of time. Many parents make it even harder for them – when they try to entertain their child for a while, they bring him toys as diverse as possible and when their child starts playing with them, they quietly leave.  This is not the best solution. Children today are not threatened by stimulus deprivation; in fact the have too much of it. Their immature brain has trouble dealing with many stimuli at once and it can distract them, making it harder for them to concentrate. If you want to help your child to have on his own and help him increase his concentration abilities, limit the amount of his toys. More specifically, offer him toys gradually. Even a baby should know, that he could do something interesting with any item. For this he needs enough time to touch, taste and take apart the items (watch out for small pieces). If he doesn’t have enough ideas, inspire him. But wait for when he wants to put away a toy. Don’t be too quick in trying to show him what it can do. If you interrupt him when he’s interested in something, you aren’t really helping his independency and attention development.


 The key is the feeling of security


Another thing that prevents babies and toddlers from individual play is a missing feeling of security. Recently, my friend Ema asked me how come her nine-month-old son Jacob can stay in bed for so long and play with just one stuffed animal and a blanket. And anytime later during the day he can’t stay entertained by any toy and what Ema doesn’t do in the morning, she does not have a chance of doing later in the day. Paradoxically, many mothers have an opposite experience – their children can play on their own during the day without problems, but they can’t stay in bed in the morning even for a minute. The key to this problem is the previously mentioned feeling of security. In order for a baby or a toddler to play alone, he has to feel safe. Some children feel safe in their crib. Others only feel safe it they are close to their mothers. But they definitely won’t be able to play alone, if you will frequently apply the strategy described in the previous paragraph. That is if once your child is interested in a toy, you slowly leave which he will probably figure out and his sense of security will be disrupted. Then, he will have trouble concentration on his toys, if he’ll constantly have to make sure his mother is not leaving.

A missing sense of security is also the reason why when we need our child to give us some rest (whether it’s because we need to get something done, or just because our nerves are about to explode), he is hanging onto our leg and demands our attention. A thirty-year-old mom Sabina describes what we probably all know well: “Elisabeth is a pretty independent child, that can play alone without my company with no problems. That’s why I was able to work from home. I usually have enough time, but when I have unexpected extra work to do, it’s like Elisabeth has a radar for it and starts demanding my attention and the time, that I so desperately need.” If your child has a radar – he can sense his mother’s uncertainty and stress, but is unable to recognize the reason. Children don’t know that the only source of their mother’s uncertainty are them and their behavior and they do what’s typical for all children – they resort to safety, which is their mother, and demand attention and comfort.


Fun. Is it even necessary?


Most mothers dream about a toddler that can stand being alone without her assistance, but there are also those that are convinced a mother on a maternity leave should always be with her child.

Is it even necessary for a child this young to be able to entertain himself? Can it harm him? As I wrote earlier, the ability to concentrate is very small – but training helps it and that’s good to remember in terms of child development. With independence, self-confidence increases and a child can then discover the world independently of his mother. He learns to solve problems on his own, to manipulate with items and to be creative. So yes, you should definitely support a child’s individual play.

I don’t have to point out that individual play does not equal freedom without supervision; safety is something you should always keep in mind. Mothers often ask how long a toddler should be able to play alone. That is very individual.

Even though theories indicate certain times during which a newborn or other children can pay attention and play themselves, with older toddlers my experience tells me it’s so variable that it’s unreasonable to follow recommendations. It’s not possible anyway, because play can’t be forced and if a child is not capable of playing alone than every parent soon finds out that giving him toys leads to nowhere.


The recipe for „play alone“ …


… unfortunately doesn’t exist. You have to adapt to your conditions and the personality characteristics of your child. Don’t try to teach your child independent play just when you really need it, because that usually doesn’t work. On the contrary, take advantage of situations when your child feels good and is doing something he’s enjoying. That is the perfect time to leave him alone for a while. However, if you haven’t tried to see yet if he minds it or not, don’t leave. Stay quietly beside him and just watch him or – if needed – encourage him verbally. Imitation works well for children that can’t entertain themselves.

Just about every toddler wants to do what his mother is doing. Is your child pulling you away from the stove when you’re cooking? Give him a small pot with a lid and a spoon and show him how you stir; and if he’s in a good mood, he’ll surely catch on.

Besides that, another good technique is „forbidden food“. The cabinet from which you are constantly trying to push him away, the toilet paper that you always put out of his reach, the package of tissues that you never let him investigate. Sometimes we tend to be overly careful and stress over little things. “My older daughter liked to take paper napkins and tissues off my kitchen counter and destroy them. I used to get mad at her a lot, but then I put them out of her reach, ” a 35-year old Magdalena remembers. “Now I have a one- year-old son and he’s the prototype of a child that constantly needs to be entertained. Once I had to take care of something, so I let my daughter play with him. I went into the other room for a while and when I got back, half of the kitchen was covered in torn pieces of napkin. I almost fell down at the doorstep, but I bit my tongue to avoid yelling at them. When I watched my son for a while (my daughter was already drawing) and I saw how passionately he was taking the napkins apart and was fine being alone, I though – maybe it’s worth it. Since then, I changed my mind a little bit about what I should let my son do, because taking anything apart is the most fun for him. Even though I have a little more cleaning up to do now, it’s worth knowing that I can relax once in a while”.

Instead of “forbidden food” you can also use a different strategy. No matter how carefully we protect our children, they end up having way more toys then they need or then appropriate.

Sabina advises: “After every Christmas or birthday I leave Julia just a few toys that she’ll have time to play with. I put away the rest. I also put up some older toys that she is no longer interested in. I gradually switch them around and sometimes we exchange toys with her friends. Thanks to this, Julia always has just enough toys and I always have something new in stock. Besides this, I also have a “last resort box”. There, I have a few toys that Elisabeth doesn’t know and it’s a type she likes – right now it’s a puzzle, a children’s telephone and a magazine. When I desperately need to entertain my daughter, I reach for this box.” It’s good to find out what works on your child. Some like colored picture books, other puzzles, building blocks or toys that make sound. Old colored magazines, a pack of paper tissues, cleaning out the kitchen cabinets or playing with water are fun for about every toddler.

Jana adds: “My younger daughter is quiet and can play alone. Even she can surprise me though. Like yesterday she slept in her room. Well, after being completely quiet for two hours, we though she was sleeping. When I decided I had to check and looked into her room,  a child ran to me saying she “slept like a pink pwincess” and she actually was pink. Somehow, she managed to find a children’s pink lipstick that belongs to my older daughter (who is very messy by the way) and she completely covered herself. Yes, a quiet child…”


 A predator in a school of fish


Did you ever think about why fish or small birds gather together when threatened by a predator? You would think that for a hunter it must be much easier catching a fish when there are hundreds of them, then if they’re is just one. But that’s not true. The movement of a school and the presence of many fish distract the predator and makes catching a prey more difficult. If the predator doesn’t manage to separate one fish, he usually leaves without dinner. It’s similar with a toddler who is surrounded by many interesting toys. He can’t look at one at a time and give it attention. He either (a better option) takes one that’s closest and plays with it, or he’ll wander from one to another and then to the first one and he will never actually stop and play with once, because of all the other ones are so interesting. And unlike the predator who knows exactly what to do with the prey (eat it), a child often doesn’t even know what fun to do with a certain toy.


Exercising With Toddlers

Just don’t neglect anything – that’s the motto of many parents of small children. There are several ways to develop your child’s skills and one of them is physical activity. But not everything truly benefits the child.


More and more mothers today are searching for anything they could do to help their child develop as best as possible. Hand in hand with that, there are more possibilities today – swimming, massages and different kinds of exercises. Also, the number of different clubs and Maternity Centers is growing. Enthusiastic mothers that often lack sufficient knowledge and skills usually organize such activities. So what should we look out for?

 Is exercising necessary?

At first this sounds humorous. Is it really important to exercise with a baby or a child under 3 years of age? The process of physical development (in terms of turning over, sitting, standing…) happens on its own; on the basis of a loving relationship between parents and their child. A child loves his parents and imitates them, because he wants to be like them. That’s how he learns. He doesn’t learn to turn over because we turn him over or sit because we sit him up. On the contrary, if we do any movement for him, we can slow down his development. When a baby starts sitting up, he learns to work with his center of gravity; he seeks balance and receives feedback about him through – for example – his falls.

Our job is to create proper conditions for this development. If we try to intervene and try to speed up our child’s development, he may lose his motivation to discover his body and develop his skills. We could decrease his self-awareness and teach him to depend on people around him. For the rest of his life, even as an adult, he will be constantly looking for support in others rather than in himself. Therefore it’s good to do any movements with the child after we’re sure that he can do them himself. If he can’t turn around on his own yet, we should lay him on his tummy only if needed. Until a child can get up into a sitting position on his own, we shouldn’t sit him up. We also shouldn’t hold his hand while walking, until he can walk on his own without support.


Don’t try to speed up your child


If you lay a child on his tummy too early, he often tries to lift his head unnaturally using his back muscles. There is also more tension in the arms and legs of a child sleeping on his tummy rather then on his back. They often fix their position by putting their arms to the sides instead of having them in front of their eyes (which is important). It’s not true that babies need to exercise by lying on their tummy. Healthy babies that are left alone can turn on their tummy naturally and spontaneously at the same time as any other baby. Additionally, their laying position is clearly more confident. It’s also not true that we can support the proper development of the hips by laying a baby on his tummy. Yes, hips need to be at the right angle, but unless the legs aren’t wrongly fixed then the hips will assume this angle on their own. Furthermore, for the development of femur necks a baby needs movement, which creates friction and that stimulates ossification – that doesn’t happen while lying on the tummy.

When a child lies on his back, he learns to support himself with his scapula and his pelvic bones and gradually learns to control his body. He can watch his surroundings (and especially his mom) better this way; he can turn his head both ways and exercise his neck, head and back muscles. His limbs can freely move around and the baby gradually increases his range of motion in his joints. He is like a seed that is poking out his first sprout and growing his first leaves. After he waves his hands in front of his face, he realizes for the first time that those are his hands that he can control. Once he realizes that, he will start reaching for the world. This will the start up the important impulse to turn over on the tummy.


Let your child play


The second most important method of learning is play. A joyful game that a child initiated himself is the most harmonic way of developing motor skills in a child. Even work at home or in the garden can be considered a game or play. He develops his versatile motor skills much faster this way then through targeted exercise. A study, which measured the performances of 4-year olds in basic skills like running, throwing, jumping, etc. showed that children who were allowed to play outside everyday without supervision scored the best. It’s important to provide our children space in which they can explore and develop their own skills (like the possibility of climbing over, down, through, etc.)

We should be careful with targeting strengthening. Certain muscle groups could get out of balance, which could interfere with the development of the whole body.


Give your child space


The wishes and expectations of parents shouldn’t overwhelm the child. Some pre-school children don’t even have time to play because they have so many activities and responsibilities.

If we try to intervene and try to speed up our child’s development, he may lose his motivation to discover his body and develop his skills. We could decrease his self-awareness and teach him to depend on people around them. During free play, a child develops his imagination and creativity much more, as well as his appetite to explore and learn, the appetite to do and to change his surroundings.

This trend is affecting younger and younger children. Parents take their children swimming, exercising, singing and to many other places. We should choose a tolerable amount of activates for our child. During free play, a child develops his imagination and creativity much more, as well as his appetite to explore and learn, the appetite to do and to change his surroundings. During play with other children a child develops his communication skills, assertiveness and also the ability to help others and share. However, if the goal is to win, if competitiveness is encouraged, then the children are overtaken by aggression and rivalry.

Free movement is also much more important than developing the intellect using various tools, books and computers. Activities that don’t encourage movement can lead to much more than bad posture and movement problems. They also take away the children’s life strength for development and growing. Children that often watch TV (even if they are watching educational programs) and don’t move a lot are often pale and get sick a lot.

That leads us to another principle: don’t ever force a child into an activity. If he doesn’t want to participate in a game, its best if the parent plays alone. A child will probably join him sooner or later. If we force our child or put pressure on him he may start despising the activity all together. Even if it may not seem so, a child that is only watching others or is playing alone is still perceiving his surroundings and learning. Some children refuse to do anything, but then at home they repeat everything they heard or saw.



A child needs to experience rhythm. It gives him a sense of safety, peace, security, life strength and much more. Rhythm can be regularity or repetition of something familiar. For example, it could be beneficial to participate in an activity every Thursday. Rhythm is also inhaling and exhaling.

After an activity, a child should have time to take it in – a time for himself – during the day or in the middle of an exercise. A child that has an afterschool activity everyday can be very stressed. Similarly, if we change games and poems too much without giving our child time to exhale, it can lead to tension and overload. The lecture should flow as inhaling and exhaling, it should always have a similar structure and a ritual that signifies the beginning and end; the poems and games can be repeated…

A small child basically learns nothing of what we tell him. As we said before, he imitates us. He does so with other people he loves as well. That’s why the personality of the teacher is so important. Choose an activity for your child with your heart. The joy and laughter are just as important as the teacher’s expertise.

Parents often think that going to afterschool activities is also important because a child can hang around his peers. But that’s not the truth. A child under the age of three doesn’t really need to be in contact with other children. What is important is the contact between mothers (or fathers). Sharing of similar worries, exchanging information and inspiration, mutual support and understanding makes parents more confident and calm. The children can sense this calmness and then the „exercising“ becomes beneficial for them. The space for sharing, whether it is during a lecture or after it, should not be left out. The joy from the game, the meeting and life itself are also important.


Naughty child…

“Being naughty” over and over for different reasons? What is a child actually trying to say by being naughty? The reasons and causes vary with age.


What we call naughtiness in two to three years olds is actually natural part of personal development of a child when the child is showing its personality to others. It’s natural expression where the child is becoming aware of its individuality. What if its disobedience lasts longer?

Important questions:

If the defiance period lasts till the age of four and further it is necessary to reconsider your behavior such as:

–          How did we respond to a child when he was trying our patience?

–          Did we show it that we love him no matter how its tantrum went?

–          Did we understand that it is its natural right to “keep testing” our love? Its right rises from the necessity of personal development.

It is important to give your child love with set boundaries which show the furthest point of direction for its temper.

Imagine how devastating wild water can be if it has no boundaries to stay within or how useful it can be if it has direction. As it is of substance to lead dawn pour to through it’s equally important for the child not to make from its bad behavior a tool to manipulate the adults. “They’ll do what I want if I keep misbehaving, I’ll get the chocolate at the end.” He or she’ll win for the time but it will also bring further problems.


Building a dam

This is the right moment when parent should reconsider if they were able to tame the ‘wild water’ to regulate the flow. To stir the life energy of a child the right way where it is useful and not wasted even though that is usually the easiest way.


If you haven’t managed this yet it is necessary to start with consistency immediately: we will not behave according to our child in conflict situations (we will not succumb to its pressure); on the contrary child will behave according to us: we’ll help it to keep his temper under control. We show it that it can rely on us.


Naughtiness in older children

When we manage the defiance period a period of child’s personal stability sets in and child should be able to undergo variety of loads.

If a child is still naughty at this period we should assume this as a particular kind of communication, a coded language.

It could be a distress signal that the child’s delegating. Similarly, when a baby cries its mother is able to recognize the particular need (e.g. hunger, wetness, overtiredness…), it could be that it is an expression of unhappiness.


What is a child trying to say by misbehaving?

If a parent is able to ask this question it is usually the first useful step.

In principle we can find three major roots to child’s problems:

Inherited temper. The temper is relevant to the strength and to the endurance of our nerve system which we carry to this word since the day of conception (it could also be affected by premature birth). Some children are naturally more sensitive to be irritated and to be able to manage their temper is hard life-long battle. Not just raising a child plays role in its personality but also later self-control plays major part. ‘The naughtiness’ can be expresses by overtiredness that is visible during particular part of a day. Hug your child, hold it and let it have peace. This kind of irritation presents itself anywhere it is not affected by people or the environment.


Relationship to mother. If child doesn’t feel strong bond to the most important person in its life it will feel insecure, frightened and it can provoke its mum by being naughty to gain prove of her love. At this time the mother must show it that although she does not accept this behavior she is accepting fully her little person.

Don’t become angry. Try to hug your child tightly and let it live through its worries. Calm him or her down and show them that you are there for them (and only for them at the time). Not only when it is time for cuddle but also when the child is naughty. Do let it know that you are not accepting his bad behavior but also show you don’t condemn the child itself.


Interraction among key people. Whole emotional atmosphere in the family plays major role in child life. If mum will always be preoccupied by various thoughts (.e.g. she is preparing for an exam and takes the care of child as responsibility or even a hard work only) she will be stressed and irritable. This kind of emotions will pass on to the child’s sensitive barometer.

Similarly the child feels the tension between mother and other family members. They are most sensitive to the relationship between the mother and the father or the mother and the mother-in-law. Quarrels between father and other people don’t affect the child so much.


It’s not your fault!

How do you show a child that any misunderstanding is not relative to it but to something else? If a child is able to understand a little you can try and explain the situation: we were not able to come to an agreement with your dad last night, but it wasn’t because of you (even though it actually could have been so, like time management around the child or similar)

Sometimes your child can become unwell due to the tension in the family (psycho-somatic illness). It knows that if he or she will be unwell it will get loving attention of both parents. If that is the case you should approach a specialist to deal with this issue.


He or she is naughty only somewhere

This king of misbehaving is easily recognizable – the child is naughty only in a certain environment – he is well behaved at school but naughty at home or vice versa. (e.g. he is very nervous from their new teacher..) Very often the message is: do pay attention to me, I need you now…

We need to find the cause of the issue and deal with it. Once we fore fill the child’s needs and the behavior does not change we need to search further.


Obduracy and sulking

A period of disobedience comes and goes and we have to survive it. However if child is still at it at older age we have to try finding the cause; it can be naughty for the sake of others.

“A common appearance in children of divorced parents is when mother speaks badly about the child’s father (especially in boys) and the boy can ‘hold dads side’ and punishes her mum by misbehaving.” Says child psychologist Jaroslav Sturma.

Even in two parents family when one humiliates the other or act without love obduracy can occur in the members of the humiliated sex.


Syndrome of rejected parent

If a child is under a strong influence from one parent so called ‘brainwashing’ or rejected parent syndrome occurs. This mechanism ensures that the child is able to content its own private world.

It gives up on the relationship with one parent more or less consciously. For example it takes up mothers’ values and rejects fathers’. Long term disunity is unbearable, the child is not able to take the humiliation of the other and eventually a moment of taking one side comes and it erases the other from its mind.

Even this behavior can be taken as bad but to blame the child for this isn’t fair.