THE BLOG
05/13/2014 11:23 am ET | Updated Jul 13, 2014

Slowing Down Care-Giving Moments to Encourage Independence in Toddlers

Days with my children are so hectic, so full on. Life with a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old can seem chaotic from the moment the first sounds of little pitter pattering feet make their way to our bedroom door in the morning, to the time they finally succumb to sleep as their heads hit the pillow at night.

Days with my children always seem so unproductive. On most days, neither of my children opt to have day sleeps so my opportunity to wash clothes, cook dinner, vacuum the floors, make the beds and generally keep the place somewhat tidy, etc., is severely impaired.

When my children are up and awake they command my attention and most of my day is taken up either helping them sort through disagreements or just needing to be there whilst they play. I try to steal moments to run the stick vac over the floor or peel some onions or gather in the washing but I find it difficult to multitask and find my attention when spread between two things is not very effective on either of the things. I can't tell you the number of dinners I have burnt as a result of this! I often wonder why my children need me to be with them whilst they play all day long! Even when I go to the toilet, my children follow me in and try to scramble onto my lap -- is nothing sacred?

Independent play has never been high on my eldest daughter's lists of priorities. On those rare occasions she seems to be occupying herself quietly, inevitably it's because she is emptying out a tube of toothpaste or drawing on the tiles with her crayons or pulling all of the wipes out of the wipes container or smearing my mascara all over her face.

I can't be sure whether her dependence on us for entertainment is a personality trait or a product of her early-childhood upbringing, whereby we showered her with an abundance of attention, played incessantly with her and made life thrilling and exciting whenever possible. Either way, finding her engaged in anything for longer than five minutes is very rare.

Except at bath time!

Bath time is my favorite time of the day. A time when my daughters are both happily occupied for upwards of half an hour and when I get to throw on the washing, tidy up and get dinner going. They sing at the top of their lungs in separate baths and engage me in conversation, always making sure I am nearby and being mindful to offer me a bite of their "icecream" or a ticket to see a fabulous bubble creation they have made. I continually glance in on them as I march around the house in double time getting on top of as much housework as possible before they call out for me that they want to get out.

But it's not enough. I want more. I want more for my daughters and I want more for me. But how is that possible? Well, as I have found out -- it is!

Part of Magda Gerber's care philosophies for raising young children to be confident, independent and self-assured is to shower them with attention and playfulness during care giving moments. If we fill their buckets with so much love and devotion during these tasks that they are saturated with us then the theory goes that they will no longer crave or need us to be right by them and involved in their free play time for the entire day.

I have known this philosophy for quite some time and for many tasks such as nappy changes and meals, this is exactly what we try to do but I feel we have been in such a vicious cycle with the bath time thing that it has been a hard one to change. That time spent when the children are in the bath has been so precious to me for keeping our house (and therefore me) sane. So much so that I have been unwilling to give it up. But I have done it.

I now am a fully attentive, playful, sing songy, fun loving mother during bath times and I love it. And more importantly, my kids love it! We all sit on the floor of the shower together (well me on the floor and the girls in their baby baths on the floor) and we cook up dinners in little saucepans, make ice creams, build towers, sing songs and generally love life.

Slowing Down Care Giving Moments to Encourage More Independence in my Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

This is becoming a special time for bonding with my kids and I am starting to see the benefits already. After bath time, the girls are completely happy to play by themselves, they are not so clingy or needy and the afternoons are generally more relaxing. While they are busy playing shops or doctors or bouncing on the trampoline, I am able to get through the same chores I was previously rushing through, peacefully and calmly.

The bath time change has not been a miracle cure-all for helping my girls play independently. I have also had to increase the time I spend giving my children my complete and utter attention, during their play, for short bursts throughout the day. Magda Gerber referred to this as "wants nothing" time, it is important for keeping their attention buckets full throughout the day so they are more content to play independently

In the mornings, I spend close to half an hour sitting with the girls patiently. Observing their play and engaging with the girls when they engage me first either through eye contact, gestures or verbal cues. It is important that they are able to steer their play in their own way, even if it seems boring to me or I can see a better, more exciting way to do something. After a period of time, I find they naturally drift off elsewhere, giving me the time and space to achieve some of my own goals for the day.

I believe the change I have seen in them is because whilst previously I was spending nearly the entire day with the children, I was always distracted, trying to grab a moment here and there to tidy, clean and cook. I was not attentive to them. I was not absorbed by them and my focus was split. They knew this and subsequently kept needing me all day long.

Inevitably, now, as the day progresses, they find their way back to me and the clinginess returns. At this point I know it is time to address their needs again either through food, rest or undivided attention. Each day I am seeing bigger periods of independent play following a burst of wants nothing time and I am kicking myself that I did not start this earlier.

You may also enjoy reading:

Changing the Change Table Relationship ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Magda Gerber's Gift to Grown ups- Parenting That Engages the Mind ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare)

Emptying Our Minds in Order to be More Present With Our Babies ~ Lisa Sunbury (Regarding Baby)