PARENTS

Attention, Attention! Why Playing With Your Baby Is Hard Work

03/03/2015 10:53 | Updated 20 May 2015

Woman and female toddler (21-24 months) lying on rug with book, looking at each other

Did you know that you're supposed to talk to your baby? Well, you are. You should talk and talk and talk. All the time. At every opportunity you should be spouting forth nonsense in order to stimulate those tiny synapses. Or something.

Seriously, dude. Go and TALK TO YOUR BABY. DO IT NOW! Why are you still reading this? I don't care if she's asleep, go and whisper your shopping list into her little ear.

Of course, I jest. But it sort of feels like that sometimes doesn't it? All the leaflets and webpages and well-meaning suggestions on engaging with your small, and perhaps as yet uninterested, person; it can be a bit daunting.

There are pages and pages of this stuff. I came across one article whilst researching this post called '50 simple ways to make your baby smarter' (Google it if you like, I'm not going to dignify it with a hyperlink). It's like, WHAT? Seriously? Make your baby smarter? Your BABY?

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The implication is that you can also make your baby more stupid, by not following all 50 'helpful hints'. Bleurgh to that.

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I kept seeing those articles about making sure your child was getting enough stimulation in the early days. It's. Really. Important. *hyperventilates* One health visitor told me to talk to Bubs constantly. She used that word. I'm sure she didn't actually mean constantly, but, you know, I was sleep-deprived at the time. Nuance wasn't a thing.

So, I endeavoured to talk constantly to my baby, giving him a running commentary on nappy changes, shopping lists and antibacterial wipes. Let's face it, I haven't got much good chat these days. But still, we do as we're told don't we? One NHS guide tells us:

"When you cook, show them what you're doing and talk to them as you're working."

Cooking is always used as an example. "Now, Bartholomew, I'm just sauteeing these onions and then I'll tomatoes, thyme and a dash of salt." It's a bit like being on Saturday Kitchen, except without make-up artists, an appreciative audience or getting paid.

Sometimes I just want to make some pasta. In silence. Who's with me?

Don't get me wrong, I love roaming around a busy supermarket and rambling on like a nutter as much as the next person. "Sugarsnaaaap peeeeas" I will chorus, as I wave a small packet of legumes in my child's face.

I relish the odd looks I get from people as they turn around, warily, afraid I am talking to them, and then their relief when they see my baby and realise I am just another hippy-dippy parent. Remember the good old days when you could just give 'em a packet of crisps and tell 'em to shut it?

Obviously talking to your baby is a good thing, and a fun thing too. I'm sure many people enjoy delivering rambling streams of consciousness to a silent audience *awkward throat clear*.

And of course there are a lot of people who don't know about talking to and interacting with their baby; they haven't had that behaviour modelled to them.

But if you're not one of those people then all this 'encouragement' to play and sing and chatter away can be a little, well, crazy-making. We go 10 minutes without playing peek-a-boo and have an existential crisis. I haven't sung Wheels on the Bus to Arabella at all today, what is to become of her?

Maybe we're over-thinking it.

At Bub's nine month health-check, the nurse told us to basically follow a 'say what you see' method of play. So, for example when he was playing with blocks we should say, 'oooh, you've got the long, red block, are you going to put it with the green triangle?'

Well, let me tell ya, that gets old pretty quickly. Games start to feel contrived, mainly because they are. But my mothering isn't going to be Ofsteded. I don't need to 'create a learning environment'. They are children: the whole bloody world is a learning environment! And I thought the whole point of 'learning through play' was to just play. And learn. Right?

There are days when I feel that I have given Bubs hardly any attention. I mean, yes, I did sing him that song he likes; and then we read those two books before lunch; and we played blowing raspberries; and built a few block towers for him to knock down; but apart from that (and the feeding, clothing, providing shelter etc) he has pretty much gone neglected.

Because part of me still thinks constant play is what good parents do. Why? No one ever actually told me that!

What occurs when we become subsumed by this way of thinking is a sort of manic, unending commentary on life. 'Everything's a game, everything's a game, everything's a game' becomes our crazy-eyed mantra.

Our sing-song tones get ever more shrill as we narrate every possible moment. "We're just carryiiiing yooou to the tooooiiilet, so mummeeee can have weeeee."

Seriously, woman, pull yourself together.

When Bub's was really little, like eight weeks, I felt guilty whenever I wasn't interacting with him in some way. When he cried my immediate reaction would be to distract and entertain him.

But the problem was half the time he was crying out tiredness. It was so not playtime. He just got more tired. And cried more. So I tried to distract him some more. #winning

I'm not gonna shoot the messenger here. The NHS provides some really good simple guide to this stuff. This video is an example of that. And the reason it's so good is because it includes this message at the end: sometimes children DON'T WANT TO PLAY!

Which in turn means that you don't always have to play with them. Well, that's a bloody relief.

It took me going into a mother and baby unit to realise that, actually, my baby quite liked kicking about under a baby gym on his own. I am not an essential part of play. This is simultaneously a dagger through the heart and music to my ears. Obvs. That's parenting for ya.

Now, when I see Bubs gurgling over a book (he's defo reading it, let's be clear, he is an actual genius) or exploring his toy box without input from anyone else, I think, 'Yeah! Go me, parenting skillz."

Because in reality no one wants a child who can't entertain themselves some of the time. That would be worrying. And no one wants to be an adult who can't entertain themselves. That would properly suck.

This article is republished with kind permission from the blog MalcontentedMother.com (rantings and reassurance for parents who aren't perfect). Follow Aileen on Twitter and Facebook for more funny and frank posts.

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