When our son was about 18 months old, my mom (who’s wise and not at all overbearing) made a helpful suggestion. She recommended we consider implementing a short “room time” for him into our regular routine so he could begin learning how to play contentedly by himself. She’d followed this practice with her own firstborn, in whom she’d observed some similarities to our son, and found it to be a boon to both his life and her own.
So I tried it out, gating him in his room in the morning with ample toys, for about 8 – 10 minutes during which I’d shower and/or dress for the day. He disliked it at first and protested for some or all of the time he was in there. Before long he grew accustomed to the time and seemed even to enjoy it, and I gradually lengthened the duration to 12, then 16, and eventually 20 – 30 minutes per day. It became quiet alone time we both could count on. I’ve continued the practice since then and recently implemented it with my daughter too (hers is in a playpen) when she gave up her morning nap.
Such a practice, implemented consistently and routinely, can help a young child learn to “be okay” alone and entertain himself. It creates a quiet space into a child’s repertoire. In a sense, it’s preliminary training in stillness and independence.
In our culture today, it seems that kids need this more than ever. Most American tots under age 3 watch 1 – 3 hours of TV per day, while the average school-age child watches nearly 4 hours (27 per week). Age 8 is standard for kids to get their first cell phone. And the busyness of today’s children and the over-scheduling of their lives are common observances – 41% of them report “feeling stressed out most of the time because they have too much to do” by age 10. Our busy, harried world just keeps getting busier, and kids aren’t exempt. They won’t need to be taught to be entertained, to become absorbed in a technology-laden life, or to be exposed to overly active, hustle-and-bustle lives.
How will all this reconcile with our kids’ capacity to “be still and know that” He is God? A stillness that makes space to connect with God begins, in part, with the ability to feel secure in the absence of busyness and bustle. Sure it can only help our kids if we begin laying these foundations now. I also love David’s testimony of God’s bringing him “into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” To me this ‘spacious place’ God provides often equates to brain and soul space away from the craziness of our modern world, prompting me to seek to lay such a foundation in my kids’ lives too.
Room time is certainly not the only way to begin building quietness and the capacity for self-entertainment into our kids’ lives. (Nor is it a new notion or one unique to my family; one of my ‘blogging mom mentors’ advocates the same basic concept here.) It may not be logistically feasible or the right choice for many families. Minimizing activities and stimulation, setting time limits on TV viewing, and teaching our children to entertain themselves in other settings can all work toward this end too.