Babies and children need a safe space. This means a “no-free zone” where they come to predict what will be there and what they will do. Security, not novelty, is what they really need. They also need cognitively challenging (appropriate materials) and emotionally nurtured (caring relationship.) That is it.
So we don’t intervene when children are concentrating as it disrupts them and the flow doesn’t happen. Uninterrupted play can last while the child has energy and focus and doesn’t show us that he needs relationship. He will let you know if he wants to interact! If he is not doing anything, isn’t that okay? Don’t we sometimes do nothing? Don’t project boredom. He is never bored but he is sometimes finished.
Does this mean we leave our children alone? We can when they are in their “safe space.” But we can also be with them, observing. This is wants nothing time. It’s a way we can be with our babies without interrupting them. This allows their inner director to be alive, showing them what they need. They can’t be in relationship with us, listening to us, looking at us, and in touch with this inner director at the same time. They are two different modes. That’s why we separate them. Our caring time, when we are feeding, bathing, changing is our interactive time and then baby gets “me” time.
Thomas Mann said “Solitude is an important expression of the original in all of us.”
For most of our history, babies had “alone time.” During the 1950s and 1960s children had playpens and they were left there for hours! They played; they fell asleep; they awoke and played some more. Now it sounds like child abuse or at best benign neglect to leave a child in a play-jail. We prefer to leave them confined in containers while we tote them from room to room with us while we do the things parents need to do (clean, cook, shower).
When left on their own, babies change position every minute. The bring in information through their skin and lying down lets the most skin interact with a surface. They develop elasticity and balance. They self regulate as they move from one activity to another. They need this time.
And parents need time too. I’m always surprised when I hear parents say they haven’t been to the bathroom alone in years. You may go to the bathroom alone because you have created a safe space (a playpen is fine!) where your child feels secure and you know he will not hurt himself if you need to leave for some amount of time.
He loves nursing.” “He loves TV.” “He loves when I play with him.” Read up on conditioning. What babies get, they come to expect, and eventually they need.
Here is a quote from the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) board of directors from 2010.
“The infant needs an intimate, stable relationship with at least one primary person. This relationship can best be developed during “care-time” — diapering, dressing, feeding and bathing. These activities offer excellent opportunities for teaching cooperation, language, body image and mutuality in task-oriented experiences. The infant is an active participant rather than a passive recipient during care-time. The infant needs a safe and carefully designed environment in which to move, explore and manipulate. He thus achieves the stages of gross motor and sensory-motor development in his own time. Spontaneous, self-induced activities, which the infant pursues freely and autonomously, have an essential value for his/her physical and mental development. The pleasure in the process of exploration and mastery is self-reinforcing. The infant becomes intrinsically motivated to learn. Meanwhile, the Educarer must learn to observe, understand and respect the individuality of the infant and respond with sensitivity and empathy to the infant’s cues.”
Be sure your baby has his me time, when he is free from your wanting to entertain, to be loved, to stimulate, to teach. He needs his wants nothing time for the best of himself to develop!