A friend just asked me if her children were going to have terrible memories of growing up because she did not spend a lot of time on the floor, playing with them. Good gosh no! Can you imagine the sheer volume of new information small children absorb? The speed at which they must fly through widening stages of awareness and learn to put that awareness to practical use – in a socially acceptable manner? Of course not, it staggers the imagination! Young children live in a magical world and, try as we might, we just don’t fit in.
Adults are long past those years of magical thinking that are a gift to young children, offering the comfort of a secret language of play with which they can sort through, and make sense of, what must seem absurd. We, by nature, are anxious people: we have things to do, people to keep alive and, at some point, bills to pay. That vibe can seriously distract our young magicians, mid-spell. When it comes to play, our job is to make sure children have time, reasonably safe space and, if we can afford it, some toys that might inspire them as they create worlds of their own – alone and with other kids – and inhabit them. Their growing-up memories will include parents and caregivers that respect and believe in the magic they create and continue to enjoy it with them.
So, do yourself a favor and get off the floor. I hear the word negligent going through your mind. Do not worry. Now that you are free to fulfill your true calling (STAFF), you’ll have plenty of opportunities for quality engagement. You’ll need to make sure that flying is not actually taking place in the air, you will be called upon to build and repair structures you can’t visualize, to help dress the elephant, do anything that requires scissors, draw a horse while mediating disputes among the new worlds’ residents, and reading stories to a bunny in a dump-truck.
You are still concerned about your kids' impressions of their formative years. Fair enough. You have given up your obsession with floor-play and are ready to take on the bigger picture. Here are 4 ways to help your toddlers create lasting childhood memories.
1. Surround your children with people who love them. When asked for their favorite childhood memories, most young adults recount gatherings of extended family or well loved friends – the more generations the better. It doesn't matter what happened there, what they remember is love and laughter. My kids recall, with great fondness, a chaotic, rain-drenched family reunion, during which children rebelled and adults bickered. The highlight of the weekend was the afternoon my husband and father-in-law volunteered to watch the younger set while the rest of us wracked our brains for must-run errands. We arrived home to find father and son caregivers asleep in front of the TV during a game of hide and seek that had left one cousin lying on a pile of dirty laundry with a bloody nose after another had experimented with throwing grandpa's shoes down the laundry shoot. I have blocked out the rest of the weekend, but my kids have delighted in the tale for years.
2. Manage the narrative. The reason the aforementioned reunion became a family highlight was that my father-in-law, a born raconteur, began retooling the story moments after regaining consciousness to claim innocence. Embellished by his equally unimpeachable partner in crime, the tale became one of revelry, injured heroines and, of course, the impossibility of maintaining order when deserted by heartless co-parents. The kids ate it up and continued to as it expanded over the years. Children love stories; make sure they're good, and you'll create truly lasting memories.
3. Enjoy yourself. You know the saying, “happy parent, happy child?” I believe in it. As you read this you may be sitting on the floor (we've spoken about this, but sometimes it's the only clear surface in the house), nursing a colicky infant while your two year old warms to his fourth tantrum of the morning. You have given up soothing your shattered nerves with guided imagery because you can no longer picture a shower. Of course you think to yourself, is she nuts!? Possibly, but I do know that some day in the not too distant future, even this moment will provide entertainment for the right audience. The best way to enjoy yourself as a parent is to find those people with all due haste. Look for the mom/dad with glassy eyes that match your own. Or, if you're not in a state of stunned disbelief at what you have gotten yourself into, anyone with a heart of gold and a sense of humor will do. They need you as much as you need them.
4. The beginning and the end of my advice is always love. What your kids will remember is how much you love them, no matter how you showed it. As always, they'll simply pick their favorite stories and ask to hear them over and over.
Photography by Red Anchor Photo for Well Rounded.