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    No 7 in our series ‘Using positive discipline’: Toys are not playmates.

    Toys help to keep baby and toddlers busy but don’t let them become their ‘playmates’. Small ones need the relationship that comes with ‘playing with’ someone. So let them play happily with toys but spend time playing with baby and toddler and the toys as much as you can. Or at least be right there while baby plays. You also help to enrich the play and learning by your participation.

    I worry that we are creating children with autistic and attention deficit like symptoms by giving baby hundreds of toys to keep them busy while forgetting to actually build a good relationship with our baby' toddlers and children. 

    At the same time, be sensitive about when you play with baby and when you simply observe the play. Babies and toddlers sometimes spend a long time exploring a toy or an object or even the surface of a wall or grass...a baby or toddler who is concentrating on something is interested and busy and probably learning much more than we could ever ‘teach’ them. So don’t interfere. Wait till the interest changes back to you – but it does not mean that you just leave. Your presence is the secure base baby needs to explore with confidence.

    Play with baby and toddler but watch baby’s cues carefully. Looking away usually means ‘I am tired of this game’. Throwing the toy away or pushing it away is another sign of ‘I’ve had enough of this’. Play needs to be child motivated and child centred to be valuable. So even if it is the most expensive toy or it has just been brought by granddad don’t insist baby plays with it if s/he doesn’t want to.

    Be very careful to notice the age the toys are suitable for. Do not try to make your 18 month year old ‘clever’ by introducing an educational game that says 3+. Your toddler will most likely fail at the ‘educational’ activity. You will be disappointed, and your little one will feel that disappointment and know that they ‘did not measure up to your expectations’. This could become the start of a serious problem in self- esteem and even to trouble at school. So let baby and toddler dictate the pace of play and learning. S/he will not get overwhelmed and distressed – and you won’t get disappointed and angry.

    Happy playful times following baby and toddlers interest and only leading just a little and in appropriate ways will foster your good, positive relationship. And a good relationship is what brings about good behaviour!

    And babies who drop things repeatedly are not being naughty – they are going through an important stage. They are learning to let go of objects in reality (how to open their hands and let something drop out of it). But also a very important emotional and intellectual process is happening. They learn that things disappear but are still there...And that things that disappear come back. Even you! This helps them to tolerate your leaving for short times better! It is one of the important ways that baby learns to become emotionally independent – so pick up that toy again and again and make it a game.

    Read up about what baby, toddler and child will be interested in at each stage. But don’t worry if your baby does not like what they are ‘supposed’ to like. S/he may become interested later (or never). We are all different even when we are little people.  But try to provide the age appropriate toys and activities if you can.

    Introduce new activities only when the last one is finished. And give your baby and toddler some warning of a change of activity like going out or bath time. Tell baby what is coming up. S/he may not understand the words but will soon start understanding your meaning. (And learn language better too!) And a toddler who has had a 5 minute warning feels that their activities are respected and will be more likely to be able to end their activity and go onto the one you have said has to happen (leaving the park, getting into the high chair for lunch etc.)  Your showing respect and consideration to baby’s activities and needs will help baby to behave respectfully and with consideration to others later and all their lives. The mark of a self -disciplined adult!

    But do follow through with the next activity. Don’t let your toddlers screaming and shouting make you give in and give them more time. This will only mean that next time s/he will try to scream and shout again next time and you will be stuck with pretty unpleasant behaviour as a norm rather than just occasionally. And a toddler without any boundaries is a sad, overwhelmed little person with tired, unhappy parents.

    Buy durable, safe toys rather than hundreds of little bits of bright plastic. Kicking at a plastic bag (you have to be there for safety) at the bottom of the crib is probably just as fun as kicking at something that costs R500 and makes tinny animal sounds. And just like we all find too much noise disturbing, baby and toddler can become disturbed and confused by too many toys everywhere. It will affect how well baby can learn to concentrate...you can’t concentrate when in a noisy environment either!  So let baby just have a few choices at once. And let your toddler choose what s/he wants to play with from the shelf or toy baskets. 

    And store toys where baby and toddler can reach them easily. And try to store them in categories so that baby and toddler  learns the concepts ‘same and different’ naturally.

    Toys break and when they do they need to be assessed for safety. Fix them or throw them out but not in front of your toddler...unless you want all the toys posted into the rubbish bin. But children  want to test the ‘boundaries’ of toys sometimes and may well break them on purpose to see what is inside. It is just curiosity – not naughtiness.  They will probably think they can go back together again as good as new. Let consequence teach them...And putting things in the loo is also not naughtiness - it is working out what belongs there.

    Your job is to explain and support the learning toys provide....not to smack and scream

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