Going out. All the stuff you have to take! Today I’m thinking of one skill, that takes a little while to learn, but will revolutionise your time out. YOUR time out – those essential cafe meetings, that quiet time in church, or that awkward time at Gran’s when you really need to be a part of the conversation, and not distracted by darling bubs…
And here it is: MAT TIME.
As with any new skill you introduce it in a quiet and deliberate manner. Take time to teach your child how to do this. Time spent on this at three months will not be wasted, (yes, three months) deliberately teaching this at five to six months will make your life so much better, but any time, even now, will help it work.
Basically you teach your child to sit in a confined space, with one or two things, for a short period of time. Because you decide, and because it is good for them.
The benefit to you is an increased length of time when you can just concentrate fully on someone or something else. The benefit to the child is a sense of security, beginning efforts in self-control and increasing sustained concentration.
Initially our children had two to five minutes by themselves, nearby but not with, me or their Dad from the day they were born. They could see us, hear us and probably smell us, but we did not engage. Note: it was only two minutes to five minutes each day. As newborns, this was just lying on their backs on a rug at our feet.
As a parent you need to be really disciplined about this one. Two to five minutes is not stretching to twenty minutes because you see an opportunity to bring in the washing, or catch up on your phone calls. This is a deliberate training time and both you and bubs need to be calm and secure. Sit nearby, but let Baby learn to be alone. With you nearby, this is not threatening, but merely the very first, little-bitty step to mastering one of life’s skills; self-managed behaviour.
Every day. Stretch it to ten or 15 minutes by one or two months old. It’s up to you. By the time they start to move and roll, before sitting up on their own, you have been nearby, but not with them, for some time. This is when I differentiate between mat time and play time. In playtime all children learn to roll and wriggle, to crawl and shuffle, to jump and roll. This is essential and I don’t want to stifle that. Mat time however, is a deliberate skill, to help your child concentrate when your attention can’t be with them.
How to proceed? Make it a routine. The special mat I used was only for this. Every time the child was on that mat I would give a specific toy to play with and maybe two or three hard-card books. The toy was selected to keep them interested, to stretch their thinking and was totally safe. Maybe a toy with beads that could be moved, or one that has buttons that make a sound when pushed. It was a different toy every day, but maybe repeated every three or four days.
The children are encouraged to stay on the mat. If their foot wiggles off I would touch it and say in a very neutral voice, “keep your foot on the mat.” Same with a hand or arm, “keep your arm on the mat.” Touching the body part, naming it and then moving it back to where it should be with out emotion (good or bad) quickly enforces what you expect. Children respond so much more to our expectations than what we imagine and by neither being cross or happy at this point of correction, there is no anxiety for the child. (At this time, they are just reminded of what to do and are not distracted by upsetting you or trying to please you.) Of course at the end of your ten minutes or twenty there is plenty of reaction! POSITIVELY reinforce what has happened…. You can be ecstatic because this is genuinely awesome!
By the time they are sitting alone or propped up with cushions this mat time could be a habit which allows you to cook dinner, without little ones moving in the danger zone, or to have a coffee with a friend at a cafe, without constant interruption. Don’t get me wrong – you don’t IGNORE your precious one, merely give them something real and constructive to do, in a safe place, while you have some well needed time out.
By the time our kids were one year old they could easily sit and concentrate for 30 – 60 mins, with a couple of toys and some books on the mat. It was great, not only for me, but a pattern of concentration emerged that continued throughout their childhoods.
The reason I used a mat was so that I could take it with me. This skill learned in peace and quiet at home, was reinforced and then transferred to other places such as a cafe, or in church, or the doctor’s room while another child was being seen. This skill of concentrating on one thing at a time and learning to ignore distractions, helps set your children up for great learning experiences in a more formal setting, but it takes time and effort on behalf of the parents. Self-control for children, is a process and starts with enjoying the safety and security of knowing Mum or Dad is in control, and they will lead me through the next step.