Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Having Their Own Experiences

Whether we work with children or we are caring for our own, we are with these children because we love them, and we will do anything to help them. Some of us have devoted our careers to them, others have given up careers to be with them. With such large commitments on our parts, it is natural that we want to be right by their sides as they explore the world, be with them for each new discovery. When we see that they want something, we reach to give it to them. When they tumble down we go running over. When they laugh for joy, we are laughing along with them.

Children experience things so fully, it can be lovely being with them as they go through it. And we are, most of the time. But I would remind all of us to consciously take a step back as often as we think of it, and let our children experience the world on their own. Children have inner lives of their own, and they need space to experience and develop them. When we give a running commentary on what our children are doing or seeing or experiencing, we shape their experience into what we are experiencing. Many times I've seen a child playing in the play-kitchen, and an adult walks over saying, “Oh, are you cooking soup?” The child nods. He may not have been cooking soup when he was playing alone, but by putting that suggestion out there, the adult has transformed it into soup. “What kind of soup are you cooking?” the adult asks. The child thinks for a minute. “Tomato,” he answers. He has now been taken out of action of his play, and moved into his head, into thinking about play instead of actually playing. “Can I have a taste of your soup?” asks the adult. “Mmmmm! This soup is delicious!” The child is watching the adult intently, and has stopped playing altogether. He waits for the adult to ask him to do something else. “Would you cook me some eggs?” asks the adult. The child is happy to comply.

I'm not saying that we should never play with our kids, or that playing with our kids always takes them away from their own play. If we're reading on the couch and they come over with a spoon and say, “Taste!” then by all means taste the delicious soup. And there are times when it is lovely to play imaginatively or energetically or joyfully with our kids. But what I'm suggesting is that it's valuable for children to have times when they can delve deeply into their play without having it shaped by us at all.

Likewise, if we notice a child has been sitting for a long time in one place outdoors, we will often go over and start asking them questions, or trying to engage them in play. But just sitting outdoors can be stimulating for a child in all the right ways. Maybe she was experiencing the wind blowing through her hair, or feeling the sand beneath her feet, or watching a bug that we couldn't see as it crawled over a leaf. When we go over and start asking her questions, or try to prompt her into play, we are taking away her own experiencing of the world. Even if we notice what she's noticing, when we comment on it, we shape her experience into the form of our experience “Oh, are you watching a bug?” we say. “Look, he's black and red!” Instead, let's let her notice her own things; they don't have to be verbalized to be appreciated.

Even when a child takes a tumble, it can be useful not to rush in too fast, and let them truly experience it. When a child tumbles down at Rainbow Bridge, I watch them first. If they look to me or start to cry, I will let them know that I'm there. “I saw you fall. I'm right here if you need hugs and kisses,” I'll say. If the tears continue, I hold out my arms. Quite a few times I've seen a child fall down and start to cry. I invite them over, but they stay on the ground. Soon their crying stops, but they don't get up: they have discovered a whole new world down at grass-level. Other times they get up, and start to come over to me, but see something more interesting, and away they run. They didn't need me after all. And sometimes, they get up and come to me for hugs and kisses. Being there in my chair with me, they can stay as long as they want, and we watch the world together from our perch. Whichever option they choose is fine, I'm available but watching as they go through their experience.

Children who are used to having a constant commentary on their lives may not initially know what do without it if you stop. You might say, “Well, I try to step back but my child doesn't know how to play by himself.” If this is the case, you will have to be even more conscious of this. If your child always wants you to play with them, stop making yourself the most interesting thing in the room! There is a certain way of being present for a child that lets them know that you are there and available for them, without having to be involved. The best way to cultivate this is to find “something else” to do. This “something else” should be something that you can do in the presence of your child, that your child can help with -or imitate- if they wish, and something that you can start and stop easily if your child needs something. As you do this “something else,” you can gradually become invisible. Household chores are really good “something else”s: folding laundry, doing dishes, sweeping the floor. Instead of thinking of these things as items to be rushed through so you can do something else, try lingering over them, stopping and starting again as kids need you, but you are always drawn back to it, like a magnet. Knitting or other types of craftwork can be good for this too, and raking leaves or working in the garden are great in the yard. The trick is to be available for them if they call you; don't tell them that you're busy. But you are soon back to doing “something else,” and invisible. The more invisible you let yourself become, the deeper they can get into their own experiences.


  1. Hello Miss Faith,

    I agree that children have their own inner lives. And I've defanately noticed that they benefit from us not talking at them all the time. My sister talks to her kids every moment of the day, and they never play by themselves.

  2. I think I said this already a few post ago but I am so thankful to have found your blog!! I just finished the FY of a Waldorf teacher training and now I am home with my 18 month old son and taking care of several other toddlers in my home. Your blog has responded to many of my questions and inspires such joy in working with children!

    Thanks so much for the important work you are doing and sharing your insights.

  3. Comments like this light up my whole day! I'm so glad my writing feels useful. Send my link to the families you care for, too!