I am beginning to wonder if it isn't the hormones in our meat, the pesticides on our vegetables the violence on our televisions and the unending amounts of social media our kids are exposed to that is causing a rise in ADHD. Maybe it's not the outside world killing our kids' attention spans, but it's the world inside our homes. Maybe it's us.
On Christmas Day my 15 month old daughter and I had a tremendous disagreement on how one uses markers. A family member had given her a set of age-appropriate markers and I sat down with her, excited to teach her this new skill. She loves to color with crayons and pens so I was pretty sure I was about to blow her mind when I demonstrated what markers could do.
As I sat down to work with her I quickly realized that she had no intention of using markers correctly. She wanted to take them in and out of the box, line them up, roll them, and then scribble on the paper with the tops on. Whenever I took the tops off the markers for her she'd cry, say "Uh-oh" and then turn the marker over and use the bottom of the marker to rub on the paper. You know, NOT making any marks at all. This also meant that the now opened tip of the marker was in her hand and pointing to her clothes. Awesome.
No matter how many times I showed her what markers could do she continued to "color" with the marker backwards, or just build, stack, and roll the markers. I wish I could say I followed her lead. I didn't. I wouldn't give up trying to get her to make marks on the paper with the markers. There were tears. And some huffing. In the end we both needed to cool down and we sat in front of the Christmas tree, markers far from our view, practicing taking deep breaths.
Why couldn't I just let it go? The marker box said 18+ month, so already I should have known that using them would involve higher skills than she had. And she was happy using the markers without actually coloring. Why did I have to push it?
If I'm honest with myself it's because I was bored. As an adult in this current world I've become accustomed to being entertained. And my daughter wasn't entertaining. She was doing the same thing over and over again.
I notice this frequently when I play with her. I am constantly fighting the urge to redirect her to play another game. She is perfectly happy taking her bib and wiping her baby doll's mouth- over and over and over and over again. But I can't let it go. "Can you feed your baby?" I hear myself asking. "Can you make your baby go night night?" And when she doesn't respond to that I find myself looking at her other toys. "Let's play with a puzzle. Want to color? Here's a ball?"
I'm teaching her to focus on things very quickly, for brief amounts of time. If I'm not very alert and aware of not interrupting her play with my own attention span I am going to create a monster who doesn't know how to engage in toys without direction, and will automatically get bored with an activity after 3 minutes.
And it's not her- it's not my daughter's attention span- it's mine.
I feel like in general I am a fairly patient person, a fairly educated person when it comes to child development, and am fairly in-tune with my daughter's needs. So if I find myself fighting the urge to constantly change my daughter's play schemes in order to entertain myself, I know other parents must be doing the same thing. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who quickly gets bored during my quality play time and finds myself distracting my daughter.
Perhaps if we learn to let our children learn to play we'll see an improvement in our children's attention spans.
There has been a change in what is expected of parenting. And your title speaks to it. In the past, let's say 25 yrs ago and more, parents did their adult activities and children played and did chores. There was not much time given to parents playing with their children. American childhood has changed a great deal in many ways. A sharp increase in play time with parents is one of them.
Been there. So been there.
But here's the thing... my daughter is so happy to do the put-in, take-out tasks if I'm sitting around just watching her (and I'm bored) and not at all interested in this kind of activity the moment I act interested in anything else. And I wonder, what did people do in the olden days when women had loads of work to do and babies to keep busy at the same time.
I remember as kids, my mom would keep some crayons and little pads of paper in her purse. If we had to, say, wait at a restaurant, usually we just had to deal with it for awhile, and if we got too rambunctious, she'd get out the crayons. We'd color, play tic-tac-toe, or find something to do.
Now, parents pull out a smartphone or tablet, and hand it over. I've seen kids with a smartphone while they're waiting for dinner at the table. I'm not a mom yet, so I'm probably too judgmental- but as a teacher I can't help but think maybe it's become a little too easy to hand kids a screen to play instead of them ever having to deal with waiting for something.
Anonymous- I wonder the same thing frequently. I think it has something to do with what teacher Gardner said- the way we interact with our kids has changed. Before I don't think people played with their kids the same way we do now. Of course, if I was a stay a home mom she would probably be more accustomed to me working around the house while she plays, but since we really have only an hour together every afternoon we tend to play together- it is our quality time. It is great, but it means that she doesn't play independently in our house much.
Jenny- I actually keep a notebook and crayons in my purse for that very reason! (Although I do have favorite books loaded on my iPad so that we can read them together while we wait- and I don't have to carry around tons of board books).
A few weeks ago baby L was sick and we spent a lot of time at the drs. The nurses were all shocked that she was reading books while she waited- it took me awhile to realize that they are use to kids playing with phones and tablets instead of reading or coloring,
When my daughter was 18 months old, she just wanted to collect leaves or rocks and make piles. I had a friend who took her toddler to Italy, again, all the baby wanted to do was stack rocks, she got nothing from the location. There's much to learn from this, location really doesn't matter, family is the most precious thing. But I digress.
The thing that makes my child's attention span expand more than anything else is when I'm engaged in an activity that DOESN'T INVOLVE HER. When I practice piano, she pesters me for the first 15 minutes, but, when I let her know that she may not pester me, nor may she watch tv, she finds a way to play by herself with her toys. As she grows up she is feeding, pottying, and putting dollies down for naps. She is a very good mommy. Don't worry, your baby will develop into a little mommy too.
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